Documentary screening honors life of late Toni Morrison

Brynne Herzfeld

The John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies hosted a screening of a documentary Wednesday about the late Toni Morrison, an African American novelist and Nobel Prize winner who died in early August of complications from pneumonia. Following the screening, a panel of experts held a Q&A session and spoke about Morrison’s legacy.

“Through small passages, she reminded us that above everything, we had a duty to practice love,” said Ya’Ke Smith, associate professor of radio-television-film. “That love would allow us to bear even what had felt unbearable.”

Morrison, born in 1931, was a prominent African American writer, and in 1993, she became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her works include “The Bluest Eye,” “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon,” each dealing with a different part of African American history and culture, according to the documentary.

“She was such an artist of language,” said Helena Woodard, associate professor of English. “(Her) challenge to the reader to take part in the process of telling the story that she unfolds through her text is what has been so amazing to me.”

The documentary on display, “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” was released in June and features Morrison speaking about important events in her life and what she aimed to accomplish with her writing, with input from her friends and colleagues. In the documentary, Morrison said she wanted her writing to be for African Americans. 

“She’s a mirror who showed us, us as black people, who we are,” Smith said. “She centered us in narratives where we had always existed on the periphery.”

Latoya Teague, African and African diaspora studies graduate student, said the film humanized Morrison by showing the life of the author behind her books. She said Morrison inspires her to be more assertive as she pursues her Ph.D.

“She was fearless, and she spoke to white men and black men alike, and she didn’t change her tone, and I love that about her,” Teague said. “ As I’m in (the Ph.D. program) myself, I’m trying to find my own voice and speak with that authority.”

While the event was centered around the film, it also served as a way to honor Morrison after her recent death. 

“Just take heart that Toni Morrison’s voice, her writings, her interviews, her speeches immortalized her,” Woodard said. “She will always be with us.”