Growing Up With Toni Morrison
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Find it on spotify or wherever you get your podcast. This episode is brought to you by American family. Insurance American family insurance believes that our dream is the most valuable thing you will ever own. That's why they wanNA help carefully ensure what you've already achieved so you can fearlessly pursue your next big dream learn more at AMFAM DOT com American the family insurance insure carefully dream fearlessly American family insurance company SA in its operating companies six thousand American Parkway Madison Wisconsin Gimmick Media. This is not and Britain loose on August Fifth Twenty nineteen. The world world lost one of the best of us in Toni Morrison. I got the news as I was coming into work and I spent the rest of that. They trying to understand the shape and depth of a loss that huge but after the initial shock wore off the first emotion that I felt it wasn't sadness sadness or devastation. It was gratitude. I was happy just to have been born during her lifetime. You know that I got to witness and read her work. I just felt lucky. That was the depth of her gift. Unfortunately our show wasn't in production at the time of Ms Morrison's passing so we weren't able to memorialize her with an episode of the nod but our friends at the cut on Tuesdays put together a beautiful tribute to Miss Morison's impact that week featuring me and so many other black women I admire like I'm not too so of call your girlfriend and glory eat him of the well read Black Girl Book Club and we love this episode so much. We are sharing it with you today so here. It is from our friends at the cut. The episode called growing up with Tony Morrison from the cut and Gimblett media. This is the cut on Tuesdays. I'm your Smalley Fisher. I started to write when I was at a lonely pays and I was writing really for me and not for publication not for anybody. I was really talking the way of talking then so I talk to myself a lot this is Toni Morrison talking to PBS back in Nineteen nineteen seventy seven which means it's Tony Morrison before she was fully established as Tony Morrison to just published her first book seven years before and listening to her talk. You can hear someone who's still getting started. I certainly hope that I am a successful writer but I know that if there were no publishing companies left in the world I would still do it. It's a 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 a fixture on family bookshelves enlists of great American novels. That's the version of Tony Morrison that a lot of people my age and younger grew up with and she helped create a world where more people could imagine themselves doing what she'd he'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 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 a human people like Oh. This woman is she's 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 PM at least in on the east coast. It's four PM after school and Oprah was is not shy about choosing Tony Morrison for her co picks. Britney's mom watched Oprah and Britney's. MOM bought those books so they were always around the house and they felt familiar long before Brittany had actually actually read them even just a picture of Morrison on the jacket. She'll start a grandma. She looks like she looks like a like. A cool auntie grandma when she also has such a I mean Tony is is like such a Tony Rhonda Rosalyn like these are all good like auntie sister cousin grandma friend name like his name Rosalyn. Tony Rhonda like this is somebody who is going to be on the phone with three o'clock in the morning laughing. They always have the T. like she just had. I didn't mean that was just so like Tony Morrison. It's like it's. It's a complete sentence. I read the bluest eye. How old are you I. I was probably fifteen or sixteen 'cause it was around the house and it had 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 came out in Nineteen Seventy but she'd started it years before in a writing group at Howard University and for a lot of the women we talked to the the bluest eye was their first taste of Tony Morrison. It's a book that might catch your eye. If you're ten or thirteen or sixteen years old it tells the story of an eleven year old girl growing up in the nineteen forties ladies. She thinks she's ugly and what she wants more than anything is to have blue eyes like a white girl. I was growing up in the mostly white suburb Robert. 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 I read the Bluest I I was reading it for the plot and that was like this is sad. I hadn't understanding in the like situationally in the book that she thought that Whiteness could save her from her life but like I didn't have a sophisticated understanding of how that same 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 from the vehicle 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 when she first read the bluest eye. Brittany wasn't focused on what Morrison listen 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 things she didn't know yet when it came to being an adult the mother and the a father began having sexual relationship and there was some way that she described something like about feeling all of the colors or something 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 L. A. Cat but most tawdry like I was like. This is a door habit hit yet yeah. I haven't had experience with somebody else yeah. I'm like Oh my God is. This is like something interesting. There's also knew it wasn't just about the feeling or the event it was about put how that relationship drew her to this bound to this man yeah and it felt like real grown women stuff and shit a gave me a window into this idea that something else transpired when you had sex with. Somebody wasn't isn't just like this. this physical experience there was so much. There's so much else attached to it. It was like you and another person really working together or just not where it was collaborations I will yeah it was just sort of piqued my interest and it made me like Oh there's more here so that was what corporate 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 my freshman year at Howard University which is where I went and also where Tony went. I was in an all girls dorm and so the first semester we're all in freshman composition like our English class and they have us read the Bluest Eye uh-huh and reading the bluest eye among all those black girls at Howard where she went and where she taught and teaching this book I didn't think about how deep that was but that was a pretty deep experience at night they 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 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 experienced color them or how they hadn't realizing that they hadn't and and realizing what sort of like what was insidious about that yeah and not fair about that and so it was like that book was an entryway to so many conversations that I had that I cherished with so many women who are so close to me now. I think 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 understanding. I think that was always the magic of Toni Morrison's books. How do you think it would be different now. Were it not for your experiences reading. Tony Morrison thing out Tony Morrison is I think for every black woman especially every black American woman she 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 gathered them. She 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 that is that is how I think She's like the best friend. The smart friend like the most like the friends like reading. Her books felt like just having somebody. It just makes sense of you. Tony Morrison wrote books that got passed from hand to hand. Maybe from your mom or your cousin or are slightly older cooler friend so I I encountered her through my older sister who he's seven years older than me so we hey lock is a news writer at falter less week J- actually wrote up the blog posts that broke the news of Toni Morrison's death remembers I taking Morrison Offer Sister Shelf so when I was about eleven I remember just sort of hanging out in her bedroom while she was doing something completely different not really paying attention to me at all that I was just sitting around and to try to get her to talk to me. I was like Oh which book from your bookshelf. Should I read. I'm pretty sure she was very blase. It was very much. It's like do read the Bluest so I just decided I'll read the book and then we'll have something to talk to my sister about and she'll notice me and it'll 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 recognize something she felt herself like the books and the TV shows that are filled with white heroes. I really desperately wanted to be 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 my immediately is Rory Gilmore more like I love Gilmore Girls. It's a good show but I remember wanting to like go to a boarding school in Connecticut and have her hair. Her hair would like being in a braid down her down her back. Sometimes I remember being like a liquor hair so beautiful and those Alexis del is Liz. There's a big blue eyes yeah yeah so for me reading it was like two main lesson one racism bad and I sort of already become very familiar with that so I was like okay that but then also the idea that these characters in books and TV shows I wanted to be so bad weren't for the solution solution to finding who I was as a person. A friend and I were talking about this recently. 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 your girlfriend she discovered Morrison through 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 and 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 probably I wouldn't say I was nine or ten. I was a very very precocious reader so I just picked up everything around the house and Yeah I remember very much realizing as I was reading it that this was not something my parents now. I was reading and I just I remember just feeling so both this feeling feeling of like wow these are really adult themes but also these are things. These are things that are happening to me. I'm a survivor of childhood sexual assault and and reading this book was really It was really eye opening. I remember just feeling really affected by the by the story and saying like okay. This is not a thing I can talk talk to my mom and dad about because I like grab Muslim. There was like a lot of shame it was somebody who was very close to our families who was abusing me but this book was a place that I could dive into to really just like to to process. I just kept thinking like Oh. This is the thing that happens to people and and it's obviously very bad but also it will not destroy you like I think that for me. That was the overarching feeling. It made me feel like less alone. Every time I pick up that book. It's something that it hits me like a ton of bricks. Every time senior life mirrored that way in a book it's a powerful experience and as I got older 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 they were for you know 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 should all the time on Youtube and now I can't think about who the interviewer is but actually who cares interview whereas the Clippers Muniz talking about from an interview Tony Morrison did in Nineteen Ninety eight with the Australian alien journalist Yana vent vent who was white looks very serious as she turns to Tony Morrison and says this. You don't think you will ever change and right books. That incorporate wide wide lives into them substantially. I have done in a substantial. You can't understand how powerfully raise the question any as you could never ask a white author when you're gonNA write about black breath he did or not or she did even in curry comes from a position of being in the center and being used to being in the same gene used to being and saying you know. Is it ever possible that you will entered into mainstream. It's inconceivable that we're I already am and she really just like flips the question on its head and she's it's always like you never like all of the questions. I got sent her white people and actually like no like yeah like that's racist and I she's like I center myself and I sent her black people in my work. 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 and and Tony Morrison pointed the she's like you know like nobody's he's asking tolstoy like writing for like. Are you writing for you know like for young. Russians is only for Russian. I it sounds and 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 you know and 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 I really appreciate about it. Always seems particularly unfair that when someone dies they're not around to help you through their death the one person you don't get to hear talk about. Tony Morrison dying his Tony any Morrison but death something she came back to again and again in her writing after the break a ghost story this up so the nod is brought to you by borough with the cold weather starting to creep in TV shows returning. There's no better our time to cozy up on your couch with a remote in hand and I got a little routine. I organized my like snacks. I kind of like lay them out on my coffee table. Usually after I've eaten this next feet go up on the coffee table. Kid is asleep so I have to worry about anybody. 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That's why they've committed to providing support every dream out there and by offering customized coverage options American family the insurance of also hopes to help carefully unsure what you've already achieved so you can focus on fearlessly pursuing your next big dream learn more at Amfam and Fan Dot Com American family insurance insure carefully dream fearlessly American family insurance company SL in its operating companies six thousand American Parkway Madison Wisconsin. Welcome back today. We're hearing stories about discovering Toni Morrison and for some of the women we talked to after finding Morrison for themselves. They wanted to spread the word Glorieta remember. Doing I mean just that. She's the founder of well red black girl and she is also a big sister. I had a habit of like readings my little brother a lot. I would read in books that I didn't didn't understand and I read to him. Beloved is like Oh my Gosh I was young. I was probably like twelve or thirteen years old and there's five years younger so he was completely terrified but I remember like released him stop. This beloved is a ghost story. It's scary as Hell beloved tells the story uh-huh Mother who escapes from Slavery Chooses to kill her daughter rather than let the baby be taken by slave catchers years later. The daughter haunts her family as a literal ghost. Just as the legacy of slavery continues to Hong America. 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. There is just Kinda like well. I don't really know either but right. let's just keep going and does she makes me. WanNa move your. You're it even like the hard part. She makes you read through the struggle and understand what she means because she is so. She's worse than so even as a young person. I knew that I wanted wanted to like take this on. I wanted to have this experience in doing that. With my brother was really was really fun for him. Maybe not so much but for me reading out loud him and being like carrying him captivated by Morrison to bonded is it was our thing so we did together at the same time. Did you like scaring your little brother. Author high 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 the he believed everything I said sometimes when I was quoting things like he just thought he didn't know that was more than he thought I was making. You don't even you. It was just like my my movements of feeling like I'm in charge and I have a command language. Even though that's not the words I would've used at that point but it was just like if felt very adult and very refined l like I understand this. How do you think your life would be different now. If you're not read Tony Morrison how fuck I mean oh I mean so much of my identity is built around Morrison's fortitude and in her ability to make you not question yourself before it Morrison for sure lives in self-doubt. I didn't know if if I had permission or is allowed to be 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 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 a Kid. It's easy to grab onto whatever seems most sensational in an adult book. Maybe it's sex are ghost. You come back to it later though and things shift aft- Ghost Stories and Jessica Story. It's a different way of thinking about death Caitlyn. Greenwich is a writer a few years ago. She was teaching a literature class and she decided to make it about ghost stories and of course everything that she writes has a ghost. There's always a haunting. There's always a dead person in it of the many things that she writes about one of the things that she's really interested in is is this sort of like moving back and forth between these worlds between the living and she never calls it the dads imagine 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 larger tradition and that sort of other way of thinking about what death means is very familiar to anyone who is familiar with death in African American cultures or just the African African diaspora in in general It's an understanding of deaths. That's based on this idea. That death is not a finality and the dead are with us and our our passes with us in a in a very real way and hunting is not something that is frightening aiming or a curse or a bad thing if another back it's a existence and you're sort of existing on these multiple claims and multiple layers and you move through those things and they can affect your daily life your material life your spiritual life depending depending on whether or not you are willing to reckon with listening writers reckon with ghosts all the time anyone who writes a book has to confront all the books that have come before decide how to claim a place alongside them years ago. Caitlin was a kid who pulled the bluest eye off her parents bookshelf now. CAITLYN's a novelist herself she and all the other writers we spoke to have just begun under reckon with Morrison's ghost. We die that may be meaning of life but we do right. That may be the measure of our lives. That's from the speech. Tony Morrison gave gave when she won the Nobel Prize and people of eulogized her in the last week. Those are lines. They keep coming back to but the part that comes next is worth remembering to comparison used your speech to tell a story she describes a wise old woman who's blind and a group of young people who approach her with what sounds like a trick question they tell the woman that they're holding a bird the NASCAR whether it's living or dead the woman waits a while before giving them an answer. She says the bird is in your hands Once upon a time visitors asked an older woman a question who who are the these children. What did they make of that encounter. What did they hear. In those final words. The bird is in your hands. A sentence that gestures toward possibility ability or one drops a language. Perhaps with their children heard wise. It's not my problem. I am old female by what was my have. Now is knowing you cannot help you. The future of language is your all the women we talked doc to settle their encounters with Morrison had opened the door to their own work how she had told them in one way or another. The future of language is yours. I went to an event that 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. This is Angela Flournoy novelist. Angela saw Tony Morrison onstage just a few years ago at that. Point Morrison certainly could have rested on her laurels. She had all the laurels in the world to rest don but what she did on that stage was she pulled out a legal pad and it was something she had written like very very recently and she read it. She was still working. You know she was older and she was you know in the wheelchair and probably had various ailments because she was still working and that was something that was kind of like a kick in the pants remained confined 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 still sparking something morrison is a writer to discover discover and rediscover 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 she was always getting in trouble it wasn't she didn't care about school. It was that no one at school seemed like they cared about her. She was always frustrated with arbitrary rules and lessons. I was sitting sitting in classrooms reading books of long with my teacher and being ferociously board the because the books just didn't in have anything to do with the lives. Any of us were living because she was always questioning the teachers he was always getting sent to detention but when she was there all she wanted to do was read and one of the few black instructors in my middle school was also the detention coordinator donator so he you know seeing this was like you really don't belong here. You know I'm GonNa send you to the library and the library and actually was superman and not like any of US keeps. I still don't know why should it came a school librarian because she clearly eighty. It's but I was in there. You you know and I'm going through the bugs that she's like. I and me and I just I'm like let me just find a buck and set out so I went and 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 essentially because at that time every book look like a steal from like the scene from Dawson's creek or something it was always just it was always like book covers for teenagers or young adults were always just like white kids dressed like they listen to a lot of Kurt cobain and so I pick up the bluest eye and it it just looked familiar at the bike 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 I sat down and I started reading. It and I didn't look up for for the rest of the hour like I just didn't look. I didn't look up until the detention. Coordinator came to the library and was like hey it's time to go and I was like can I check out this uh-huh and the library goes no and he was like way what she can't check out a book from the library the issue like well. It's not her library times and so like he was like okay. Let's all calm down. I'm pretty sure she didn't check out the pot and she let me check out the book. Finally I by took the book home and I finished it that day which was not uncommon for me. I've always been a fast reader and love to read what was uncommon 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 depth and the depravity and and all of those things that were built in into this gorgeous novel I couldn't see them all clearly but there was something about that book that told me like this is what riding can be and it just opened up this world for me about not just finding good stories but also the interesting ways 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 S. I don't think I knew that anybody cared what 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 could contribute how much I love my huge capacity capacity for love in some way school made me feel like that in some ways my home life that in a lot of ways the world and medium made me I feel like that and I read this book and realized that had been written by a black woman and that it was about a black girl and a black world in a black past and a black family you know and the black pain the thing about Toni Morrison's life for a lot of writers like me especially chilly black women writers as that she doesn't just give us permission to write our world our lives and our language but she it also gives us permission to write. Whatever the hell why I have a place that is mine. That's my work work. When I write that's fine. This is Toni Morrison on Oprah in two thousand eleven. It is free on nobody. Nobody tells me what to do and I would listen if they did a whole. It's all it's my world. I have invented. These are my people this vile language and now. I have come to believe that everybody needs those places. If you have never read Tony Morrison don't feel ashamed about it. Here's not me not to so again. Just pick up a book and start anywhere just starting here because I I'm never gonNa get to experience her for the first time again and I'm really jealous of people who won't on Tuesdays is produced by Sarah mcbean it being a Livia nap. Our senior producer is kimmy regular for edited by Lin. Levy and Stella be mixing by Munger and Peter Leonard. Our Music is by Haley Shaw Emma Monger Hunger and Peter Leonard our theme song is played right by Sylvan Esso special. Thanks to John Hopkins Thaler Alison Davis Ruth Spencer Sade Page on Thomas Kacha Bochco and Erica Speakers House and cut on Tuesdays production of Gimblett media and the cut in the summer of nineteen ninety. The legendary group to laugh crew had their music declared legally obscene. What followed was a nationwide battle over art free speech and the future the hip hop stood up went to war fight against the government in democracy. You know what I'm saying on the new season mogul from spotify gamely media. We're telling a story one of the biggest controversies the twentieth century you can stream the entire season a mogul now exclusively on spotify episodes drop on Wednesdays everywhere else this don't settle for your same old couch settle into a Comfy New Borough Sofa get seventy five dollars off the new Sofa and free one shipping being at borough dot com slash. Not That's B. U. R. O. W. dot com slash denied.