Toni Morrison: REQUIRED.

By The Rev’d Craig Lemming

“Literature, sensitive as a tuning fork, is an unblinking witness to the light and shade of the world we live in.” – Toni Morrison

I fell in love with Toni Morrison when I read “Song of Solomon” for the first time in 2007. I was a graduate student at Indiana University and Morrison’s language was so enthralling I’d often miss my bus stop. I’d laugh and curse at myself as I sprinted to classes, rehearsals, and jobs for which Pilate, Milkman, and Guitar almost made me late. I’ve adored Toni Morrison ever since and Pilate still haunts me.

In our shared work of dismantling racism at St. John’s I highly recommend the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am which premieres on TPT 2 this evening at 7:00 p.m.

In addition to her novels, I also recommend The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison. Why? Let’s just say my just-on-time arrivals at recent Zoom meetings is proof that Morrison’s non-fictional work makes time stand just as still as any of her novels do.

As followers of Jesus, I believe reading Toni Morrison helps us to see our own life narratives intersect with those in Holy Scripture in sublime new ways. As the author of this essay observes, “Morrison’s Catholic faith—individual and communal, traditional and idiosyncratic—offers a theological structure for her worldview. Her Catholicism illuminates her fiction; in particular, her views of bodies, and the narrative power of stories.”

I close with this excerpt from her essay on “Literature and Public Life” (1998), in which Morrison reminds us that,

“fictional literature may be (and I believe is) the last and only route to remembrance, the only staunch in the wasteful draining away of conscience and memory. Fictional literature can be an alternative language that can contradict and elude or analyze the regime, the authority of the electronically visual, the seduction of ‘virtual.’ The study of fiction may also be the mechanism of repair in the disconnect between public and private.”

God is revealed in paradoxes. In this dystopian reality we find ourselves in, reading Toni Morrison – fiction or non-fiction – is now Required.


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