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May 27, 2006

Where I Surf - Meeting Toni Morrison


The following online article was written by my colleague at IUP, Alyce Baker Putt. After reading it, I thought I'd share it with my readers or for anyone who might be interested with the re-print below (see end of article for citation source):

Tell Your Mom Thank You

Despite her small stature, she entranced me. All I could do was stare at her—even though I know it is impolite. No one else seemed to notice her. They were busy chitchatting and eating. I was busy looking at her.

My passion for Toni Morrison’s works began during the summer of 1999 while taking a major author course at Shippensburg. Prior to this course, I had never read any of Morrison’s works. By the end of the five-week course, I had read all six of her novels. She has published two more, which I, of course, bought and read immediately. I have also read her non-fiction and much of the criticism about her works. And I have read practically every interview she has ever given.

People have asked what lures me to Morrison’s works. Most often I reply . . .

. . . that I cannot verbalize what happens to me while reading her books. This is not a cop-out answer. It is the truth. I can say I appreciate her boldness, the ability to talk about issues and actions that few write about. I can say I love the challenge of her non-linear narratives. I can say I admire her dialectic approach to writing. I can say I value her lyrical prose. Saying all of this still does not verbalize everything I experience while reading one of her novels.

With novels in tow, my friend Aly Marino and I were privileged to attend the VIP session of the Gifted Minority Scholarship Program on February 23, 2006. As my favorite author, Toni Morrison engrossed me because I revere and respect her so much. This was the first time I ever saw her and why I could not stop staring. I could not stop staring at her signature on the inside cover of my second favorite novel, Paradise. Strangely, it seems almost magical. Logically, I know it is just a signature. However, it is a signature of the person I have devoted so much time to studying.

Quite honestly, Aly and I never thought we would be able to get Toni Morrison to sign our books. In fact, we purposely selected purses that securely and discreetly held the monuments. Out of respect for Morrison, we didn’t want to tote books in our hands, expecting her to sign them. But sign them she did. I couldn’t help but tear up as she signed Paradise and she noticed right away. I could tell she was puzzled. I did not explain—I did not want to overstep my boundaries.

After a gentle nudge from Dr. Mary Stewart, a former English professor of mine, I asked Morrison, “How does the grotesque function in your novels and what are its purposes?” She asked, “What do you mean by the grotesque?” I told her I am primarily interested in John Ruskin’s definition. She then graced me with several explanations. Later I asked her about a specific scene in The Bluest Eye and whether she considers it grotesque. She replied the scene was not intended to have grotesque characteristics, but agrees it is present nonetheless.

I would never have been able to attend the VIP session were it not for my mother’s own mighty pen. Without my knowledge, my mother wrote a letter requesting I be given the opportunity to meet Toni Morrison.

Normally, my mother probably wouldn’t have made such a request. But, as a parent, she feels helpless. She wrote the letter to give me the boost I will need to continue to write my dissertation—and to celebrate life. Writing a dissertation seems like an impossible task, adding brain cancer to this jumble makes the undertaking seem insurmountable.

I am, in some ways, glad I have brain cancer. I admit to being a perfectionist and pessimist who often saw the negative in everything. These characteristics prevented me from concentrating on the good. I find by focusing on the positive, life seems to slow down and becomes easier to simplify. I also realize being a pessimist caused me to lose faith in others—and in myself.

I was diagnosed in December 2005 and immediately had a craniotomy, removing much of the tumor. I have since undergone a number of tests and compared to others, I am extremely blessed. In fact, my only treatment is to be closely monitored via MRIs and blood tests. I am functioning neurologically at one hundred percent. But there are no guarantees the remaining tumor will continue to be inactive. Thus, the past three months have been a struggle psychologically.

After the evening was over, Aly said she couldn’t imagine what this was like for me: being able to see Toni Morrison, get my picture taken with Toni Morrison, get a novel signed by Toni Morrison, speak with Toni Morrison about the topic of my dissertation, to see professors who taught me, all at the institution where I graduated from and where I was introduced to Morrison’s novels. Sometimes I can’t imagine it either. Fortunately, it wasn’t a dream. I have the photograph, signed novel, and notes from our conversation to motivate me to write my dissertation and to serve as reminders of those who care about me. I also have Toni Morrison’s resonating voice in my head, saying, “Tell your mother I said thank you.”

[Please Click HERE to read Tell Your Mom Thank You at its original source]

*For more "Where I Surf" articles on the English-Blog, please click HERE!

Posted by lhobbs at May 27, 2006 02:55 PM

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