Toni Morrison casts her spell

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“I’m worth it.”

A filled LPAC auditorium. A lengthy standing ovation. The moment so many have been waiting for since the start of this academic year finally came Monday night when Toni Morrison was wheeled onto LPAC Mainstage.

Dr. Weinstein’s reverent introduction of Morrison as a spokesperson for her race, a figure that has been claimed by both her time and her race, and a writer that has eluded the traps that befall an author who writes on race gave many the notion that they were soon to lay eyes on some sort of deity. What we saw instead was a smiling, white-haired, reservedly regal elderly woman with a voice to lull children to sleep.

In his introduction, Weinstein spoke of the multitude of sentiments he has experienced while reading Morrison’s works. “As a white reader, I have experienced shame at what whites have done to blacks, admiration at what blacks have survived, and pity and terror in the face of something so real.” It was gratitude, however, that he expressed towards Morrison. Gratitude for showing the injustices blacks have survived, but also, and perhaps more importantly, gratitude for trusting her imagination and conveying what it sees.

It was this notion of imagination, the individual minds of readers and the worlds they create, that Morrison focused on during her talk. She called her lecture ‘Invisible Ink’, calling it a “description of what I try to do or what I think I’m doing in my writing.”

She underlined the importance of distinguishing reading as a skill and reading as an art. She read a brief passage from Flannery O’Connor and described it as an illustration of flawless writing. What constitutes flawless writing? For Morrison, it is “writing that can be read over and over again with attentiveness.”

“I was a reader before I was a writer,” said Morrison. She recalled reading Run Jim Run and Hansel and Gretel and having so many questions about what else was going on besides what the text conveys. “Invisible Ink is what exists outside the lines and is discovered by the Right Reader.” A person who loves a particular text may not be the Right Reader for that text. For Morrison, great writing lures the reader to worlds outside the lines of the pages. The Right Reader is the one who can tap into those worlds to form a fuller understanding of the story being told.

Morrison went on to discuss the role of race and gender in the projections made by the reader. When the gender of a narrator is explicit in a text, it elicits certain responses from the reader. Similarly knowing the race of the author and/or narrator produces far more certainties for the reader than not knowing the full identity of the voice. Morrison seemed to suggest that the assumptions adopted by a reader may be put into question through the engagement of Invisible Ink. “What if we read the invisible ink and saw that it was not so?”

Recalling his first encounter with Morrison some forty years ago, Weinstein stated that Beloved “remains as shocking as when it first appeared.” He is by no means the only one who finds Morrison’s works to possess that flawlessness that allows them to be revisited time and time again. We were able to catch a glimpse of her ever resonant literary gift as she read a passage on a work in progress. “Don’t ask me anything about it,” she chuckled.

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