This is a really fine documentary worth seeing whether or not you’ve read the notable American writer’s novels. Toni Morrison’s beginnings were humble (her father read the Bible when it was illegal for a black man to do so, and moved north from Georgia to Ohio after witnessing two lynchings). After her sister taught her to read when she was three years old, she amused herself by writing words on the sidewalk, and reading as much as she could. When she got a job at the local library stacking books, she said she was slow because she couldn’t resist reading the books as she was putting them on shelves.
After having grown up in Ohio, she enrolled in Howard University in Washington D.C., where she encountered segregated restaurants and buses for the first time. Even at Howard, she found one sorority for lighter skinned black women and another for darker skins.
After earning a B.A. at Howard University and an M.A. at Cornell University, Morrison taught English for a year at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. Thereafter, she became an editor at Random House, where she began getting praise for her work, and eventually started becoming known for her fiction. Even after she won the Nobel Prize, she was criticized for writing only about the black experience, referring to it as “narrow” and “provincial.” She defends herself by taking pride in writing to people of color rather than to white people; and, indeed, Hilton Als reported in The New Yorker that Morrison was influential in changing the writing of black authors.
Toni Morrison’s achievements have been as novelist, editor, and teacher, having now attained the rank of professor emeritus at Princeton University. In addition to literary prizes (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Nobel Prize for Literature, and American Book Award), Toni Morrison received the National Humanities Medal, and President Obama bestowed upon her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Morrison’s life has been colorful—difficult at times (such as when raising two boys on her own)—but inspiring and rewarding for the most part, according to the documentary. She notes that she has always been able to count on family, and she finds great peace in rising at dawn and writing for several hours on a pier by her lake house.
Director/Producer Timothy Greenfield Sanders’ film about an American icon contains artistic renditions of scenes, entertaining comments from the famous Oprah Winfrey, Fran Lebowitz, Angela Davis, and others, as well as an intimate, warmly human picture of an amazing woman likely to be venerated for years to come. If you haven’t already sampled some of her books, you are sure to want to after seeing this film.
An artistic and resonant portrait of a celebrated American writer.