Thursday, December 21, 2023

Conversing about Toni Morrison

This entry is part of a series about 20 Years of African American Literary Studies at SIUE.

At least once per week during the academic year for the last ten years, my colleague Elizabeth Cali and I have discussed Toni Morrison and her work. No seriously. At least once per week. Many times, it's more than that. But at least once. For the last ten years.  

It's perhaps the longest running conversation I've had with someone about an author, or a creator of any kind.

Cali and I discussed dozens of writers over the last decade. Zora Neale Hurston. Langston Hughes. Amiri Baraka. June Joran. Many, many more. More recently, we've frequently discussed Colson Whitehead. Still, Morrison has come up on a consistent basis more than others.

We have ongoing talks about our department's Toni Morrison course, which we offer every spring. We discuss Morrison-related news items and scholarly articles on her novels and idea that emerge, and we often mention coverage on literature and other topics that should have included Morrison. We regularly discuss our thoughts on various aspects of Morrison's books. 

We almost always return to a trio of Morrison books -- Song of Solomon, Beloved, and Sula. We mentioned other titles such as The Bluest Eye, Jazz, and Playing in the Dark. But we always return to that trio of books. Those, in the context of our conversations at least, are the top three. 

This past semester, our African American literary studies unit organized a gathering for a small group of potential English majors. We had a few funds to purchase a book, and of course, Cali and I decided on a Morrison title. We figured that perhaps newbies might not be ready to dive into a full novel, so we purchased everyone copies of the book version of Morrison's short story, "Recitatif." 

During the course of our conversation, some of the attendees became curious about more of Morrison's works as Cali and I and others were mentioning her novels. So I attended up purchasing Song of Solomon for a few students. Alright, and then I decided to purchase my graduate students copies of Courtney Thorsson's The Sisterhood: How a Network of Black Women Writers Changed American Culture, which features Morrison. Cali and I had been discussing the book the whole semester. 

Next year, I suspect more scholars will publish works on Morrison. Students on our campus will be reading and thinking about her works. And we'll still have unanswered questions about Sula, Song of Solomon, Beloved, Paradise, Jazz, and other titles. All of that is to say, I'm sure Cali and I will find reasons to continue conversing about Morrison.  

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