‘Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am’: A Life Through Prose

by Christian Ramos on July 11, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Rock Fist Way Up] 

To begin, readers – I am ashamed. Ashamed I have heard so much about Toni Morrison and her novels and many times have had the chance to read them, but have not been blessed with the time. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, which is a full interview with Ms. Morrison on her life story, finally pushes me to read her stories that have inspired generations of readers and have shaped the way we look at our own American history. 

Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (whose other works include The Out List, The Latino List, The Boomer List), this documentary has Morrison sharing not only her story, but her views on life, what inspired her writings, and what she finds so beautiful and yet ever so complex about her African American heritage. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, still only recently has been challenged in public school reading as a controversial novel. At the heart of it, a young black girl wants blue eyes like other white girls she sees. Inspired by a moment Morrison had growing up, many of the interviewees describe that even with her debut novel, the playing field for authors was forever changed. 

At the heart of the film are the interviews of various people who have been shaped by Morrison’s work. Activist Angela Davis actually received the push and inspiration she needed from Morrison to write her own autobiography. Davis recalls Morrison telling her not only to describe the memories for her own stories, but go further and explain things like how the room looked in various locations or what Davis was wearing on that particular day that shaped how her story goes. Morrison thus becomes more than an author herself, but a confidante to others.

One of the most intriguing stories involves her interactions with helping publish Muhammad Ali’s autobiography and how he respected her to the highest degree. Another touching moment is the discussion by Oprah Winfrey of both Morrison’s popular novel Beloved and the subsequent Nobel Prize in Literature that she deservedly won for writing it. These two moments of publishing a novel that depicts slaves as humans despite their enslavement and her win, were seen by many as a huge win for an American female author. Morrison wasn’t afraid to write of the horrors of slavery, and she didn’t ignore this time in history that has been so often left out, without being seen through the eyes of a female before. 

It is a bit complicated to write about documentaries without giving too much away. As I see it, this is like a featured autobiography that even Morrison herself finds appeal to. There is something eloquent about hearing from the real subject at hand. For this film especially, hearing the first-hand accounts of how Morrison views her work, especially her work that would win her the respect and awards she deserves, only solidifies her place in American literature as one of the absolute best.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am premieres at Glenwood Arts Theatre tomorrow.


Christian Ramos is a recent graduate of KU with a B.A. in Film & Media Studies. When he’s not watching movies, he likes to brag about the pointless Oscar trivia he knows, remembers that time he dressed as Steven Spielberg for Halloween and shows off his tweet that Julianne Moore liked.

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