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Posts Tagged ‘Toni MOrrison’

Rivers, First Draft

January 13, 2016 | by

Lorraine O’Grady’s living Künstlerroman.

“Rivers, First Draft”: the Debauchees intersect the woman in red and the rape begins, 1982 Digital C-print from Kodachrome 35mm slide. Photo via Alexander Gray Associates

In 1982, the artist Lorraine O’Grady staged her first major performance piece in Central Park, “Rivers, First Draft.” In the park’s bucolic Loch section, the audience watched a black woman in a red dress walk down the ravine. Red is a sign for wanton women, and this one was in the company of wild-eyed dancers, barely clothed—all of them white. She was shy, lingering behind the dancers as they shimmied and shook down the hill. When she caught up and tried to engage them, they spurned her.

So the woman in red wandered over to a door. Several black male artists were gathered behind it. She knocked, and they, too, turned her away. While she hesitated, hoping to change their minds, the dancers returned and attacked her with Dionysian energy. Read More »

Addy Walker, American Girl

December 23, 2015 | by

We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!

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From the cover of Meet Addy.

The role of black dolls in American culture.

In 1864, a nine-year-old slave girl was punished for daydreaming. Distracted by rumors that her brother and father would be sold, she failed to remove worms from the tobacco leaves she was picking. The overseer didn’t whip her. Instead, he pried her mouth open, stuffed a worm inside, and forced her to eat it.

This girl is not real. Her name is Addy Walker; she is an American Girl doll, one of eight historical dolls produced by the Pleasant Company who arrive with dresses, accessories, and a series of books about their lives. Of all the harrowing scenes I’ve encountered in slave narratives, I remember this scene from Meet Addy, her origin story, most vividly. How the worm—green, fat, and juicy—burst inside Addy’s mouth. At eight years old, I understood that slavery was cruel—I knew about hard labor and whippings—but the idea of a little girl being forced to eat a worm stunned me. I did not yet understand that violence is an art. There’s creativity to cruelty. What did I know of its boundaries and edges? Read More >>

Addy Walker, American Girl

May 28, 2015 | by

The role of black dolls in American culture.

Addymeet2

From the cover of Meet Addy.

In 1864, a nine-year-old slave girl was punished for daydreaming. Distracted by rumors that her brother and father would be sold, she failed to remove worms from the tobacco leaves she was picking. The overseer didn’t whip her. Instead, he pried her mouth open, stuffed a worm inside, and forced her to eat it.

This girl is not real. Her name is Addy Walker; she is an American Girl doll, one of eight historical dolls produced by the Pleasant Company who arrive with dresses, accessories, and a series of books about their lives. Of all the harrowing scenes I’ve encountered in slave narratives, I remember this scene from Meet Addy, her origin story, most vividly. How the worm—green, fat, and juicy—burst inside Addy’s mouth. At eight years old, I understood that slavery was cruel—I knew about hard labor and whippings—but the idea of a little girl being forced to eat a worm stunned me. I did not yet understand that violence is an art. There’s creativity to cruelty. What did I know of its boundaries and edges? Read More »

Our Thing: An Interview with Paul Beatty

May 7, 2015 | by

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Photo: Hannah Assouline

Paul Beatty’s recurring themes—race and tribalism, human psychology, ambition and failure, and the haunting presence of history—are the heavy ones. But he moves through them with light steps, his precisely choreographed Southern California meander broken by exuberant outbursts of buck dancing and the occasional disemboweling. His early poetry and his first novel, The White Boy Shuffle, opened up expansive new territory for writers trying to build an alternative literature, one that found its energy and idiom outside of the traditional American literary complex. But he has always belonged only to himself, unrushed and unburdened by any scene or movement.

I first encountered his work through the Nuyorican Poetry scene in the nineties. I remember feeling that wash of recognition and estrangement that certain books conjure—I was surprised by the familiarity of the voice, and thrilled by the weird, reckless shit it was saying. Paul seemed to come from the world I knew, a world filled with outsiders and cultural polymaths but still thick with the strange incense of African American life—where Amiri Baraka was a comedian, Kurt Vonnegut was black, and Ice Cube was an arch satirist. It was life-changing to see that world animated by Paul’s particular offbeat, backtracking, culture-swallowing genius. Beatty writes laceratingly funny books that often turn on the subject of race, but more than that, his novels are flares sent up—for anyone who happens to be looking—that illuminate the persistent and irreducible feelings that rumble in our deepest places. They’re about hope and failure and loss, the absurdity of systems and the loneliness of being our own weird selves. And they’re about the beautiful consolation of seeing it, really seeing it, in all its pain and nothingness, and laughing.

Paul’s latest novel, The Sellout, comes at an interesting moment in the eternal—and eternally recycled—American “conversation on race.” The protests that have broken out across the country over police violence have had a powerful undercurrent of black humor. My Twitter feed is illustrated with wild, vivid scenes that would be right at home in a Beatty novel: Newsman Jake Tapper in Ferguson for ABC News with a protestor behind him holding up a sign: IS IT OPEN SEASON ON A NIGGA’S ASS???????; CNN reporters getting their microphones jacked midinterview by angry protestors; a (probably doctored) photo of a young black boy riding a hijacked police horse away from the scene of a riot. Years ago, Beatty identified the source of this sort of dark comedy. “African Americans,” he wrote in one of his section introductions for Hokum, “like any other Americans, are an angry people with fragile egos. Humor is vengeance. Sometimes you laugh to keep from crying. Sometimes you laugh to keep from shooting … black folk are mad at everybody, so duck, because you’re bound to be in someone’s line of fire.”

Paul and I had a long talk in front of a single cup of coffee at a café in the East Village. That wide-ranging, candid interview was cursed by the gods of Cupertino and lost forever. Paul, being a mensch, agreed to meet me again at a different East Village café, and just as he started to open up about the path of his career, we were interrupted—our quiet café hosted a comedy night. We fled to yet another café, where we had this conversation. Read More »

Philosophy Turns Violent, and Other News

September 17, 2013 | by

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  • During an argument over the works of Immanuel Kant, a Russian man was shot in the head. He is, shockingly, not seriously hurt, but the shooter faces up to a decade in jail for “intentional infliction of bodily harm.”
  • The distinguished poet Graham Nunn—former artistic director of the Queensland Poetry Festival—has apologized for serial plagiarism. After getting caught.
  • James Patterson: “I’m going to give away $1 million in the next twelve months or so, to help independent book stores. We’re making this big transition right now to ebooks, and that’s fine and good, and terrific, and wonderful, but, we’re not doing it in an organized, sane, civilized way. What’s happening right now is, a lot of book stores are disappearing, a lot of libraries are disappearing or they’re not being funded. School libraries aren’t being funded. This is not a good thing. It used to be you could go to your drugstore, you’d find books everywhere.”
  • The president of the Ohio board of education is calling for the ban of The Bluest Eye by native daughter Toni Morrison. Debe Terhar calls the 1970 novel “pornographic.” Says Morrison, “I resent it … I mean if it’s Texas or North Carolina as it has been in all sorts of states. But to be a girl from Ohio, writing about Ohio having been born in Lorain, Ohio. And actually relating as an Ohio person, to have the Ohio, what—Board of Education? —is ironic at the least.”
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    Digital Book Signings, and Other News

    February 27, 2013 | by

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  • “Why do so many novels get adapted into screenplays at all, when their essential quality, the persuasive and enthralling power of prose, always must be stripped—and the final product is always left in some state of diminishment?” Ian Crouch on that modern institution, the miniseries. 
  • At three P.M., Toni Morrison is conducting a “digital book signing.” (Really more of a Google hangout, but still.)
  • What are the ten best books you’ve never read? (I, for one, have never finished The Ginger Man.)
  • While we’re ranking stuff: your favorite film about a writer? (Barton Fink.)
  • “Rather than limiting discussion of a certain book to a digital room in e-readers such as the Kobo or Kindle, Socialbook lets all your friends in your personal digital network know what you’re reading and invites them into the conversation. Furthermore, Socialbook puts participants right into the text of the book, where they can scribble notes in the digital margin of the book, highlight portions, pull out quotes and even rearrange the content.” To coin a phrase, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”
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