Growing Up With Toni Morrison


This episode of the cut on tuesdays brought to you by for shadow frozen pizza. That's made better to taste better for pizza has naturally rising crust. One hundred percent real cheese jeez scratch made sauce and high quality toppings for shadow premium ingredients for a better tasting pizza from the cut and gimblett media. This is the cut on tuesdays. I'm your host molly fisher aw i started to write when i was in a lonely pays and i was riding riding really for me and not publication and not for anybody i was louis talking was the way of talking then so i talked to myself a hello. This is tony morrison talking to p._b._s. Back in nineteen seventy seven which means it's tony morrison before she was fully established as tony morrison just published her first book seven years before and listening to her talk. You can hear someone who still getting started. I certainly hope that i am a successful writer later but i know that if there were no publishing companies left in the world i would still do with it's a little crazy to listen to this. Now you hear the name toni morrison and you think of the literary legend a regal nobel laureate whose books are fixture on family bookshelves and lists of great american novels. That's the version of tony morrison that a lot of people my age and younger grew up with and ngop create a world where more people could imagine themselves doing what she'd done to this week. In the wake of her death. We wanted to hear from women who grew up in that world about how they first. I made their way to morrison's work and what it's meant to them over the years. She was a deity already before i was born like it was understood with human people like oh. This woman is everything. We'll start with britney loose. She's co host of the not my mom. She stayed at home with us in so oprah was always on four p._m. At least in on the east coast host it's four p._m. After school and oprah was not shy about choosing tony morrison for her but kopecks bernice mom watched oprah and brittany's mom bought those books so so they were always around the house and they felt familiar long before brittany had actually read them even just the picture of morrison on the jacket grandma. She looks like she looks like a like a cool auntie grandma when she also such a i mean tony is like such tony. Rhonda rosalyn like these are all good like auntie auntie sister cousin grandma friend name like if you're find his name rosalyn tony rhonda. This is somebody who you're going to be on the phone with like three three o'clock in the morning laughing. They always have the like. She just had a name. That was just so like tony morrison. It's like it's a complete sentence. I read the bluest eye. How old are you. I was probably fifteen or sixteen ha because it was around the house in have an oprah's book club pick at any of those that were in the house. I read them. The bluest eye was morrison's first novel. It came out in nineteen seventy but she'd started at years before in a writing group at howard university for a lot of the women we talked to the bluest eye was their first taste of tony morrison. It's a book that catch your eye. If you're ten or thirteen or sixteen years old it tells the story of an eleven year old girl going up in the nineteen forties. She thinks she's ugly and what she wants more than anything to have blue eyes like a white girl i i was growing up this mostly white suburb. I felt like i was sort of out of step with most of the other people around me but i didn't have the language for it and so when i first read the bluest i i was reading it sort of for the plot and that was like this is sad. I had understanding in the situationally in the book that she he thought that whiteness could save her from her life but like i didn't have a sophisticated understanding of of how that same sort of system of oppression was making me feel a certain way probably because maybe it was like two combination too obvious in too painful for me to be able to connect that back to my own experience in a way that like really would have made me feel like totally like oh man. I'm fucked act when she first read the bluest eye. Britney wasn't focused on what morrison could tell her about her life right now. She was more interested in what morrison had to say about her possible. Future about all the the thing she didn't know yet when it came to being an adult the mother and the father began ike having a sexual relationship and there was some way that she described it's something like about feeling all of the colors and things like that which is basically euphemistic for hanging orgasm or at least experiencing some sort of like carnal pleasure. Let's say and like it was just the most delicate but most tawdry like i was like. This is a door habit hit it yet yeah. I haven't had that experience somebody else yeah so. I'm like oh my god this is this is something interesting and there's also wasn't just just about the feeling or event it was about how that relationship drew her to this bound her to this man yeah and it it felt like real grown woman stuff and shit. It gave me a window into this idea that something else transpired hired when you had sex with somebody wasn't just like this. <hes> this physical experience there there was much. There's so much else attached to it. It was like you and another person really <hes> working together or or just yeah. It was just sort of like the piqued my interest. It made me like oh. There's more here so that was what caught hockberg needs attention the first time around but a few years later she read the bluest eye again and this time it hit her in a new way. It was the first semester of freshman year at howard university which is where i went and also wear tony went. I was in a all girls dorm and so the first semester were all in freshman composition like like our english class and they have read the bluest eye and reading the bluest eye among all of those black roles howard howard where she went and where she taught in their teaching this book <hes>. I didn't think about how deep that was but that was a pretty deep experience at night. They'd sit around the dorm talking about toni morrison. I had never really been around that large group of black women at once hearing black women from a variety of shades brown around skin dark skin light skin like you know different types of hair in all different types of facial features and everybody's sort of opening up about how they hit experience color ism or how they hadn't realizing that they hadn't and realizing what sort of like what was insidious about that yeah and not fair about that so it was like just like that book was an entry way to so many <hes> conversations that i had that i cherished <hes> with so many women who are so close to me now. I think that i felt pity when i read the book the first time i think that the second time only three years later i think i felt <hes> understanding. I think that it was always the magic of toni morrison's books. How do you think you would be different now. Were it not for your experiences. Reading tony morrison that thing about tony morrison is i think for every black woman especially every black american woman she made you feel like you deserve to take up space like there was a like. I don't know it's like there's this quote that she has. She is a friend of my mind. She gathered me man the pieces i am she gather them and get them back to me and all the right order. It's good you know when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind like like that is that is how i think she's like the best friend smart friend like the most like the friend that reading her books felt like just having somebody just make sense of you. Tony morrison wrote books folks. That got passed from hand to hand. Maybe from your mom or your cousin or slightly older cooler friend so first encountered her through. My older sister served seven years older than me so we hey lock is a news writer at culture. Last week actually wrote the blog post that broke the news of toni morrison's death. Do you remember the first taking morrison her sister shelf. So when i was eleven i remember just hanging out in her bedroom while she was doing something thing. Completely different not really paying attention to me at all that was just sitting around and to try to get her to talk to me. I was like oh which book from your book shelves. Should i read. I'm pretty sure she was very blase. It was very much like <hes>. Do we read the bluest eye so i just decided i'll read the book and then i'll have something to talk to my sister. Go and she'll be it'd be great although he was trying to impress her sister. The book itself snuck up on her reading. How morrison's protagonist felt about shirley temple bowl. She recognized something. She'd felt herself like the books and the t._v. Shows that are filled with white heroes. I really desperately wanted to be but but couldn't couldn't fully see myself in who'd you remember wanting to be or who who was like that to you when you were eleven when it comes to mind immediately worry gilmore like i love gilmore girls. It's a good show but i remember wanting to like go to boarding school role in connecticut and have her hair with like being braid down her down her back. Sometimes i ever being like a liquor hair so beautiful and those alexis sexist dell is was there some big blue eyes yeah so for me reading. It was like two main lessons one racism bad and i sort of already become. I'm very familiar with that so i was like okay that but then also the idea at that these characters in books and t._v. shows i wanted thank you so bad weren't for the solution to finding who i was as a person a friend and i were talking about this. Recently you know like the question was what is a book that you know you are way too young to read and for me. It was the bluest eye. I'm not too so as co host of call all your girlfriend. She discovered morrison's the bluest eye to and even though it's a book about a kid it's dark not just because it's dealing with racism internalized in otherwise it also tells the story of a child who's raped and who becomes pregnant with her father's baby. I ran the bluest. I i wanna say i was nine or ten. I was very very precocious. Reader reader so i just picked up everything around the house and i remember very much realizing as i was reading it that this was not something my parents could no. I was reading and i just i remember just feeling so both this feeling of like wow these are really adult themes but also these are things. These are things that are happening to me. I'm i'm a survivor of childhood sexual assault and reading. This book was really <hes>. It was really i opening. I remember just feeling really affected by <hes> by the story and saying like okay. This is not a thing. I can talk to my mom and dad about because i like grab moslem. There was like a lot of shame it was somebody who was like very close to our family as he was abusing me but this book was a place that i could dive into to really just like to process. I just kept thinking thinking like oh. This is the thing that happens to people and it's obviously very bad but also it will not destroy you like i think that for me. That was the overarching feeling doing. It made me feel less alone. Every time i pick up that book. It's something that it it hits me like a ton of bricks. Every time seeing your life mirrored that away in a book it's a powerful experience and as i got older and got to know the rest of morrison's work. She realized it was bigger than anyone story. It was a whole way of thinking about what stories could be and who they were for just how much pleasure and pride and urgency she took in the fact that she wrote about black people for black people. I'm thinking about the interview that i like. I watch it all the time on youtube and now i can't think about who the interviewer is but actually who cares the interviewers. The clip immune is talking talking about is from an interview. Tony morrison did in nineteen ninety eight with australian journalist. John event vent who is white looks very serious as she turns to tony morrison and incest this. You don't think you'll ever change and write books. That incorporate wide wide lives into them substantially. I have done <hes> <hes> venus substantial. You can't understand how powerfully raise the question is any as you could never ask a white author. When are you gonna write about black whether he did or not or she did not even the inquiry comes from a position of being in the center and being used to being in the same gene used to being present and saying. Is it ever possible that you will enter demands chain is inconceivable that we're i already am is to mainstream exchange flips the question on its head and she's always like you never like all of the questions i get like center white. People actually like no like that's like that's racist and i i sent her myself and i sent her black people in my work and there's nothing wrong with that and i was like this is true. It's like i think about the you know the cannon that i read in college on high school cool and then tony morrison pointed. She's like you know like nobody's asking tolstoy like writing for are you writing for young russians is this is only for russian but i just i it sounds so i you know like i'm obviously making light of it and being a little flippant but i think that for so many of us that was that was game changing when she she never shrank. She wasn't provocative. She wasn't you know she was just telling the truth about who she was and and they really appreciate about. It always seems particularly unfair that when someone dies they're not around to help you through their death the one in person you don't get to hear talk about tony morrison dying. His tony morrison but death is something she came back to again and again in her writing after the break a ghost story. This episode of the cut on tuesdays is brought to you by tomorrow mellon tamara mellon. John is a new footwear brand for the next generation. They combine new school luxury with old school craftsmanship guaranteeing everything they make with shoe care for two years so i feel feel like you want to buy shoes. You can commit to like get them. Result get the he'll refinished polish them oil them all that i have no interest in anything disposable. I want something that's going to last last forever. That's a good shoe philosophy yeah to take your shoe philosophy to the next level and to get one hundred dollars off your first purchase visit. Tamara mellon dot com offer offer code the cut again. 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It's always there for you when you need it for shadow premium ingredients for a better tasting pizza welcome back today. We're hearing stories about discovering toni oni morrison and for some of the women we talked to after finding morrison for themselves. They wanted to spread the word. Laureate remembers doing just that. She's the founder of well red black girl and she is also a big sister. I had a habit of reading my little brother a lot and i would read in books that i didn't understand and i i him beloved. Oh my gosh i was young. I was probably like twelve or thirteen years old brother's five years younger so he was completely lee terrified but i remember like reading the scenes at him stop. This beloved is a ghost story. It's scary as hell beloved tells the story of her mother who escapes from slavery and chooses uses to kill her daughter rather than let the baby taken by slave catchers years later the daughter haunts. Her family is a literal ghost. Just as the legacy of slavery continues to haunt america erica. It's a lot for a seven year old or a twelve year olds to take in like going into like what is slavery with your little brother is just kinda like <hes> well well. I don't really know either but <hes> let's just keep going and does she makes me wanna move through it even like the hard part she makes you read read through the struggle and understand what she means because she is so she's done worse than so even as a young person. I knew that i wanted to like take this on wants wants to have this experience in doing that. With my brother was really was really fine for him. Maybe not so much but for me reading out loud to him and being like cabbie him him captivated by morrison to you like bonded is it was our things. Louis did together at the same time. Did you like scaring your little brother. I did of course online. We're five years apart so i do come up very very big sister and so i did love the fact that he believed everything i said and sometimes sometimes when i was quoting things like he thought he didn't know that was more than he thought i was making worried tony you know and it was just like my moments of feeling like i'm in charge and i. I have a command of language. Even though that's not the the words i would have used at that point but it was just it felt very adult and very refined yeah like i understand this. How do you think your life would be different now. If you're not read tony morrison oh fuck i mean oh i mean so much of my identity is built around morrison's fortitude and her ability to make you knock question yourself before i read morrison for sure i like lives in self-doubt. I didn't know if i had permission or is allowed to be was outspoken and as bold as i wanted to be even within the creation of wall red black girl saying well red black girl in itself is is a statement and i don't know if i could came to that conclusion without morrison to feel just really uninhibited and free to be myself when you're reading as a kid easy to grab onto whatever seems most sensational in an adult book. Maybe it's sex our coast. You come back to it later though and things shift go stories and jessica story oy. It's a different way of thinking about death caitlyn. Greenidge is a writer a few years ago. She was teaching a literature class and she decided to make it about ghost stories and and of course everything that she writes goes to mitt. There's always a haunting. There's always a person and that of many things that she writes about one of the things that she's really interested. Adam is is this sort of moving back and forth between these worlds between the living and <hes> she never calls it the dad she always calls it the not living and so i started to think about her work in those terms as well. When tony morrison writes about death she doesn't treat it as something final and caitlyn says that's drawing on a large tradition and that sort of other way of thinking about <hes> what death means is very familiar billiards. Anyone who <hes> is familiar with death in african american cultures or just the african diaspora in general well <hes> it's an understanding deaths that's based on this idea that death is not a finality and the dead are with us and and our our past is with us in a in a very real way and hunting is not something that is frightening or a curse or the bad thing it's just another fact of existence and you're sort of existing on these multiple planes and multiple layers and and you move through those things and they can affect your daily life your material life or spiritual life depending on whether or not you are willing to reckon with those oakland raiders reckon with go solve the time anyone who writes a book has to confront all the books that have come before and decide how to claim a place alongside them years ago caitlin. I was a kid who pulled the bluest eyes off her parents bookshelf. Now caitlyn's a novelist herself she and all the other writers we spoke to have just begun to reckon with morrison's ghost we die that may be leaning of life but we do ryan. That may be the master of our live. That's from the speech. Tony morrison gave when she won the nobel prize and as the people of eulogized her in the last week those lines they keep coming back to but the part that comes next is worth remembering to morrison used her speech to tell a story sorry she describes a wise old woman who's blind and a group of young people who approach with what sounds like a trick question they tell the woman that they're holding a bird the nascar oscar whether it's living or dead the woman waits a while before giving them an answer. She says the birds in your hands one. The time visitors asked an old woman a question. Who are the these children. What did they make of that. What did they hear. In those final words words. The bird is in your hands a sentence the gestures toward possibility a one that it drops perhaps with their children herve wise. It's not my problem. I'm old female by what with them. I have now is knowing. I cannot help you. The future of language is your all. The women we talked to said how their encounters with morrison had opened the the door to their own work how she told them in one way or another. The future of language is yours. I went to an event that she was at and i just sat close to the front row in grand at her like an idiot but i didn't try to speak to her because i was shy. This is angela floor ni- she's a novelist. Angela saw tony morrison onstage just a few years ago and at that point morrison certainly could have rested on her laurels. She had all the laurels in the world to rest on but what she you did on that stage was she put out a legal pad and it was something she had written like very very recently and she read it. She was still working working. You know <hes> she was older and she was in the wheelchair and probably had various ailments but she was still working and that was something something that was kind of like a kick in the pants for me. I can find any reason for it to not be the right time. You know to work angela. I read morrison's work when she was a teenager and it sparked something in her then years later. It was still sparking something. Morrison is a writer to discover henry discover and even now that our work is everywhere reading it for the first time can still feel like finding something. That's just for you back. When the writer ashley see ford was in junior high. She was always getting in trouble. It wasn't that she didn't care about school. It was that no one school seemed like they cared about her. She was always frustrated with arbitrary rules and lessons. I was sitting in classrooms reading in books along with my teacher and being ferociously board the because the book didn't have anything to do with the lives. Any of us were living because she was always questioning the teachers she was always getting sent to detention but when she was there all she wanted to read and one of the a few black instructors in my middle school was also the detention coordinator so he you know seeing being this was like you really don't belong here. You know i'm gonna send you to the library and the library actually was super mean and not like any of us excuse. I still don't know why should came a school librarian because she clearly eighty it but i was in there. You know and i'm going through the bugs. She's like i am me me and i just let me just find a buck and set out so i went. I saw this book and on the cover was a little black girl and the way her hair was parted and the darkness of her skin especially because at that time every book looked like a still from like the scene leanne from dawson's creek or something it was always just it was always like book covers for teenagers or younger adults were always just like white kids dressed like they listen to a lot of kirk obey and so i pick up the bluest eye and like it just looked familiar with like looking at a picture of my grandma when she was a kid you know or or even like my mom when she was a kid and and i sat down and i started reading. It and i didn't look up for the rest of the hour like i just did look. I didn't look up until detention. Coordinator came to the library was like hey. It's time to go and i was like. Can i check out this book and the librarian liam goes no and he was like wait what she can't check out a book from the library issues like let's not her library time and and so like you say okay. Let's all calm down. I'm pretty sure she didn't check out the ball and she let me check out the book. Finally i took the book home home and i finished it that day which was not uncommon for me. I've always been a fast reader love to read what was uncommon. Common was that after i finished it. I went back to the front and started it again. Here's the thing about that book. At twelve i read it and couldn't really understand it. I couldn't really understand the emotions and the debt and the depravity and and all of those things that were built in to this gorgeous novel. I couldn't see them all clearly but there was something about that book that told me like this is what writing can be and it just i opened up this world for me about not just finding good stories but also the interesting ways is that stories could be told and the powerful way that stories could be told and before. I read the bluest eye to be perfectly honest. I don't think i knew that anybody cared. A little black girl fought or how she felt. I thought i had been born into a world where nobody would care who i was what i thought what i could give what i contribute how much i love my huge capacity for love in some way school. Maybe feel like that in some ways my home life in a lot of ways. The world and media made me feel like that and i read this is book and realized that had been written by a black woman and that it was about a black girl and black world and a black past and a black family you know and black pain the thing about toni morrison's life for a lot of writers like me especially black women writers as that she doesn't just give us permission to write our world in our lives and our language but she also gives us permission to to write whatever the hell we why. I have a place that his mind. That's my work on. I right that's that's my this is toni morrison on oprah and twenty eleven. It is free on nobody tells me what to do. Uh and i would listen if they did. It's all it's my world. I have invented. These are my people my language and now i have come to believe that everybody needs want those places. If you have never read tony morrison listen don't feel ashamed about it. He's not you so again. Just pick up a book and start anywhere so start anywhere because i because i am never going to get to experience her for the first time again and i'm really jealous of the people well. That's it for this show. We're off next week so we'll see you next next tuesday. Also we are working on an episode about anxiety and we want to know the weird ways that you self soothe food. Are you watching tick tock when you can't sleep. Are you a stress baker. You reorganize your underwear drawer. When you feel like your life is falling apart and why is that the thing that works for you. Give us a call and let us know nine two zero three six eight three three four one again nine hundred zero three six eight three three four one. The cut on tuesdays is produced by sarah mcbean olivia. Our senior producer is kimmy regular for edited edited by lin levy and stella bug be mixing by among and peter leonard our music is by haley shaw emma monger and peter leonard our theme song is play it right by sylvan esso special. Thanks to john hopkins taylor alison davis ruth spencer side page on thomas caccia bochco and eric speakers thousand could on tuesdays production and if gimblett media and the cut the journal is a new podcast from gimblett media and the wall street journal about money and power on this show. We show you how a company's bottom line affects the decisions you make every day. Google's entire future is predicated indicated on it continuing to be the one place you go for the answer to all information. We follow the money and see where it takes us. This is one of the biggest financial heist that has ever happened period. 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