Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On Writing: Toni Morrison

A lot of students expect to show up for class on the first day of each new college class, collect their syllabi and cut out early. That didn't happen in ANY of my classes on Monday. Modeling Algebra...full class time and a headache. Intermediate Spanish...full class time and the surprise that I remembered so much after four months away from it. African-American Literature...Dr. Swartz loves teaching too much to let us go much before the end of class time.

We took care of the formalities and got right into the topic with a dated video featuring an interview with author and educator Toni Morrison. She discussed her novel Beloved, how she got the ideas for it, how she wrote it. And just as I do in a lecture, my hand was busy scribbling notes to myself:

narrow and deep
a little, not a lot
oral history
characters as large as life
culture, where is it?
history, where is it?
slavery: a product sold
musical, written simply
reader invited in with their own emotions
rich, effective
leave space
quilt language so the fire can be seen
write the way one remembers
resurgence of spirit
what is really infinite
intimacy between us and our ancestors
always accessible presence
exorcism: things must be made, fixed, memorialized, released, thought, felt

Those all are Morrison's words and thoughts about writing. I took them, put them down on paper so I can go back, again and again, to test my own writing against them. And I will carry around Beloved until I get it read. And in this class we will be reading another of her books, The Bluest Eye. Just as I latched on to Doris Lessing's work when she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in February 2008. Morrison is college educated. Lessing never attended college in her life. Both are writers of high esteem. Both share their knowledge of the skills of writing. Could I find better mentors anywhere?

So this is what "they" meant when they said I should study the works of authors I enjoy reading and learn from them.

(c) 2008 Cathy Brownfield

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