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Posts Tagged ‘Russell Banks’

“TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM”  My rating: B

120 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

It’s about time.

At age 87 writer/editor/educator Toni Morrison has won a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize and her novels — Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby and Jazz — can be rightly said to have made major contributions to American literature.

But there’s never been a major documentary about Morrison, an oversight director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders corrects with “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.”

Drawing upon a small army of big-name admirers –among them Oprah Winfrey, Walter Mosley, Russell Banks, Angela Davis, Fran Lebowitz  and her editor Robert Gottlieb — Greenfield-Sanders intersperses talking-head observations with vintage newsreels, family photos and Morrison’s own testimony (recorded in sessions going back to the ’70s) to create a panoramic history of her life and career.

We hear of her childhood in Loraine Ohio and get from the author an amazing story about her grandfather, who boasted of having read the Bible at a time when Negro literacy was illegal in some states. In another story she recalls how an obscenity scribbled on the sidewalk outside their house infuriated her mother.

Both incidents, she recalls, taught her that “Words have power.”

College, a failed marriage, two sons…and a job editing at a small publishing firm that was absorbed by book giant random house. Morrison edited other writers’ books while working on her own (usually in the hours before sunrise, while her children were still sleeping).

Early criticism of her work was, in retrospect, borderline racist. White critics admired her style but cautioned that as long as she insisted on writing “just” about the black experience she was doomed to the literary fringes.

(more…)

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