The transition of legendary writer, novelist, and protector of the word, Toni Morrison, invoked sprinkles of heaven’s gaze. From there, it feels the literary world has been illuminated with a greater guardianship. Now that she has joined the Universal heavens, writing cannot be left for those, who are careless with words. That literature continues to select those, who will illuminate that legacy. Literature and, the word, are just! They reveal truth. Those selected to guard their sacredness are chosen.
On September 30, 2019 Spelman College (sponsored by the Spelman College Women’s Resource and Research Center, Spelman UNCF/Mellon Programs, and the UGA Low-Residency MFA Program) hosted a two-part celebration of Toni Morrison. It began with the screening of “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am”-a documentary featuring those who knew Toni Morrison. I mean really knew. . .her. Not everyone can say that. Even the best critics, who had the privilege of interviewing her. The literary community-those studying her work, reviewing her words, becoming lost, confused, enraged, invigorated, impassioned, and provoked by. . .her words. Not even they can truly claim to, “know her.” It was a special group. A special collective of folks, who vibrated, with her, in her Spiritual circle. The documentary was a diary. A collection of vocal oratories and remembrances, of the woman behind the words, and those who knew her best. Because when you know a person, know a writer as Toni Morrison, forget about trying to use the word (and your accolades of it) as a mask. Toni Morrison can read you, and read you, well.
Following its conclusion, would be a discussion, featuring noteworthy panelists-Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (filmmaker) and Paula Giddings (historian, beloved friend of Toni Morrison), while moderated by legendary, filmmaker Julie Dash. It was a mesmerizing sight. Evermore was hearing her words. Toni Morrison’s vocal essence, as if her very speech crafted an elegant painting, that one can see on if their minds were free enough to experience that invisible dimension of visibility’s sake. A world and storybook tale that is not observed through the naked eye. But, only by those, who have mastered the ability to see the imaginative lens when a writer of Morrison’s caliber. . .speaks.
In the ways of Black American literary and oratorical culture, there is a way of using one’s stories, oppressions, pains, marginalization, and audacity to be. . .for cultural survival. Its a peculiar alchemy of using foreign spacing, returning to the rawness of blackness, and consistently re-viving and re-creating one’s identity over periods of time. Toni Morrison’s brilliance and artistry is one of those Black American writers, who have done. . .just that. Presenting blackness, Negro, Black American experiences as art, as worthy of being considered peculiar aesthetics-worthy to be studied. A wealth of culture and knowledge, stemming from a people’s motivation and dedication to exist, to be-even in times of impossibilities, attempted annihilations, and methods of wanting to destroy Black America’s psyche. This is the magic of Black American people. Peculiar and raw equations of chemistry, specifically designed for this culture of people. Listening to Toni Morrison in the documentary, you feel her way of capturing this experience. Through her telling of her own childhood experiences, or the characters and places of her literary jewels, the stories created by Toni Morrison are hidden details into the creative ways, used by Black American communities to preserve and bring healing to their mental and emotional psyche. Nurturing that healing, in the midst of deranged chaos and madness.
An intermission, or dinning break, in the Women’s Resource and Research Center provided that special time for catch up. Seeing familiar faces, meeting of the new. Those women professors, who mentored and believed in me. That is when you saw, observed, and experienced that sparkle of magical healing. A particular spreading of glitter within Black American women circles and spaces of that Sista’ girl talk. Natural familiarity, which affirms that your presence is warranted and welcomed. Blessing your presence, giving you that solidarity, while making it clear that you are not in a strange world. You belong. That’s all that needs to be said.
One of the nurturing attributes, holistic experiences, of watching Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, is its location. Observing this phenomenon with professors, students, authority figures, and visiting guests in the auditorium of the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Ed.D. Academic Center Auditorium was a soothing relief. Soothing because you are surrounded by women of your very cultural garden. Women who understand, and who you experience those illuminating, or fickle, moments in the documentary. Feelings which may not be articulated, but have a collective feeling. A euphoria of “aha” and “um hmms.” This silent agreement affirms the reality of your experiences. Your personal story as Black American women in the United States of America, which is connected to other Sistas’, other Maidens, from your cultural garden. Ain’t nothin’ like it honey. Ain’t nothin’ like being in the company of fellow Sistas’ who know that story. Who know that journey because they have had to walk it, too. And even if that walk as at a distance, its patterns and energies maneuvered into a unified vibration; titillating the skin of each Black American woman. This peculiar energy, where description does not truly convey its meaning. It being best served through song and dance, as it is what was done by the women, before them. Those women, who crafted the different pieces for a greater puzzle. Though distant and different, their lives are interconnected.
The second phasing of the celebration took attendees through the element of music and song. Noteworthy writers and professors as Pearl Cleage, Gina Breedlove, John Holman, Herman Beavers, Tayarl Jones, Kamilah Aisha Moon, and Shay Youngblood took to the stage, reading Morrison’s words. Her words were serenaded, wrapped, and clothed by Sistas’ who made song their rainbow. That song was their healing tribute. A reminder in how musical forms as Soul, R&B, and all the genres and Classics, birthed from Black America’s gardens, have healed. . .her. Have healed us, our Sista‘ friends. Have elevated and beautified us, when such was not permitted in the context of mainstream society.
For a young, Black American Maiden to be away from the garden for so long, can be overwhelming once she returns. Many stories to tell. Past journeys to unfold. A wealth of emotions comes to the forefront. One of gratitude, sadness, joy, and nourishment. Sadness in having been away for so long. Yet, those encroaching feelings, once one has returned back. The scars, scratches, and wounds, inflicted upon young Maidens of this garden, immediately disappear once they enter. Any type of healing is welcomed and affirmed. To visit and celebrate a Mother of this garden, her return to Universal greatness, is a blessing. It means that Mother and Maiden of this garden have restored that bond. And, thus brings restoration to an entire community.
Upon leaving the garden, that moment had to be captured. Maidens must always highlight their image with their, cultural, Mother figures. Its more than important. Its a spiritual bonding and contract between the Earth and Heavens. This bond continues into future generations. And so, while nurturing that connection, and leaving the garden, strength was given to me in the ecstasy of re-birth and re-vitalization. These different women, myriad of pieces, had united themselves in celebrating a complex puzzle. Morrison’s puzzle. Complex. Wondrous. Sisterly. Loving. Gentle. Creative. Caring. FAMILIAR. LOVE. Her pieces meticulously crafted. Once placed together, dissolve any Spirit of brokenness. Complete. Pieced together in the finalizing of a heroine’s puzzled journey.
For more information on the Women’s Resource and Research Center-under the leadership of Dr. Beverly Guy-Scheftall-please click on the following link: https://www.spelman.edu/academics/majors-and-programs/comparative-womens-studies/womens-research-resource-center
For more information on Spelman UNCF/Mellon Programs-under the direction of Dr. Cynthia Neal Spence-please click on the following link: https://www.spelman.edu/academics/special-academic-programs-and-offerings/social-justice-fellows/contact
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