What’s the story?
This week marks the release of Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s acclaimed documentary about the literary career and life of Toni Morrison. Filmed shortly before the novelist’s death last August, it’s a poignant look at the hallenges Morrison overcame to achieve her groundbreaking career.
While many will be familiar with her books, it is Morrison’s agenda-setting stint as an editor at Random House that is most revelatory in the film. A single mother to two young boys, she gave up her teaching career to give a platform to authors such as Angela Y Davis, who said Morrison helped her ‘access my imagination in ways I continue to be thankful for today’, and Gayl Jones.
Meanwhile, Morrison wrote her own books in whatever time she had - on the back of receipts in taxis; on the worktop while cooking breakfast for her boys. Writing by hand, her manuscripts were transcribed by the office typists in exchange for Morrison coming over and filling their homes with the smell of her famously good banana bread.
While the documentary isn’t short of talking heads - Hilton Als, Oprah Winfrey and a highly entertaining Fran Lebowitz (who emphasises the entertainment of a Nobel Prize party) - the main reason to watch is to hear from Morrison herself, who discusses her life with humility and humour.
What’s the book?
We’d challenge anyone to not immediately indulge in any of Morrison’s bibliography after watching The Pieces I Am, but what the documentary offers is the context of the books’ publication. Morrison, we are shown, constantly rallied against reviews steeped in bias against her race and gender and stood firm in her desire to write solely about the black American experience.
Our best recommendation? Follow the film, and read them in the order they were written and published: The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, Paradise, Love, A Mercy, Home and God Help the Child.
Where can I see it?
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is in cinemas nationwide now.
Morrison on being immersed into what was, in the Sixties, the very white, male world of publishing: ‘Navigating a white male world was not threatening, it was not interesting. I was more interesting than them!’