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S34 Ep3

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

Premiere: 6/1/2020 | 00:02:16 |

Toni Morrison leads an assembly of her peers and critics on an exploration of the powerful themes she confronted throughout her literary career in this artful and intimate meditation that examines the life and work of the legendary storyteller.

About the Episode

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is an artful and intimate meditation on the legendary Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author that examines her life, her works and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career. From her childhood in the steel town of Lorain, Ohio, to ’70s-era book tours with Muhammad Ali, from the front lines with Angela Davis to her own riverfront writing room, Toni Morrison leads an assembly of her peers, critics and colleagues on an exploration of race, America, history and the human condition as seen through the prism of her own literature. Inspired to write because no one took a “little black girl” seriously, Morrison reflects on her lifelong deconstruction of the master narrative. Woven together with a rich collection of art, history, literature and personality, the film includes discussions about her many critically acclaimed works, including novels “Beloved,” “The Bluest Eye,” “Sula” and “Song of Solomon,” her role as an editor of iconic African American literature and her time teaching at Princeton University.

In addition to Morrison, the film features new interviews with Hilton Als, Angela Davis, Fran Lebowitz, Walter Mosley, Sonia Sanchez and Oprah Winfrey, who turned “Beloved” into a feature film. Using director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ elegant portrait-style interviews, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am includes original music by Kathryn Bostic, a specially created opening sequence by artist Mickalene Thomas and evocative works by other contemporary African American artists including Kara Walker, Rashid Johnson and Kerry James Marshall.

Photos: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

"My world did not shrink because I was a Black female writer. It just got bigger."

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is a production of Perfect Day Films Inc. in association with American Masters Pictures. Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (American Masters: The Women’s List, American Masters: The Boomer List, American Masters – Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart). Produced by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Johanna Giebelhaus, Chad Thompson and Tommy Walker. Michael Kantor is executive producer.


Major funding for Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is provided by AARP and JustFilms / Ford Foundation.

Support for American Masters is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judith & Burton Resnick, Seton Melvin Charitable Trust, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Vital Projects Fund, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuen and public television viewers.


- My grandfather bragged all the time, that he had read the Bible, and it was illegal in his life to read.

Ultimately, I knew that words have power.

- I wanted as many people who could hear my voice to understand the importance of her work.

Get people to trust that, oh, this is something safe, and then bam, hit 'em with Toni Morrison.

- One of the earlier reviews says she's got a great talent.

One day, she won't limit it to only writing about black people, like, really, it's limiting for her to write about black people?

- People began to buy Toni Morrison, and then we began to teach her, and as a consequence, they had to pay attention.

- [Interviewer] I know you get sickened to death of being labeled the black writer.

- I prefer it.

- Oh, I thought you probably were tired of it.

- Well I'm tired of people asking the question.

(audience laughing) - Oh, oh yes, of course.

- [Man] I don't know where this woman's energy came from to raise two kids, to bring other people of color to the party, and also write these novels.

- [Another Man] Toni was an editor at Random House.

- Navigating a white male world was not threatening, it wasn't even interesting, I was more interesting than they were.

(camera clicking) And I wasn't afraid to show it.

(upbeat music) - Suddenly, the cannon wasn't the private property of white male writers.

- I've thrown this book across the room and then walked down the steps laughing, like, you read Toni and you cry, but you gotta laugh.

Texas Bureau of Corrections banned 'Paradise', because it might insight a riot, and I thought, how powerful is that.

(laughing) (upbeat music) - When Toni Morrison published 'Beloved', it was an extraordinary turning point, we can never think about slavery in the same way.

- A friend of mine called me up early in the morning and said, 'Toni, you won the Nobel prize.'

And I remember holding the phone, thinking, she must be drunk.

- Toni Morrison's work shows us, through pain, all the myriad ways we can come to love.

That is what she does, with some words on a page.

(upbeat music)


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