26 October 2014

The Bottom Line on Toni Morrison's Papers: It's Her Choice

I debated whether or not I should post my opinion(s) to current controversy over Ms. Morrison's decision to house her papers at Princeton given that she was a student, teacher and actually began writing 'The Bluest Eye' at Howard University.  As with most of these self-inflicted dilemmas; I've decided to do so.

It further occurred to me if, indeed, the masses of black folks with more pressing concerns would really care.  This is all so academic and as one pundit indicated quite elitist.  However, we do live in the era of public intellectualism and an interest in literary works that spans across all socioeconomic lines. The internet, public radio/t.v. and cable have contributed to informing the public on a variety of subjects. Ms. Morrison has also presented and continues to appear (although less frequently of late) in a number of forums open to the public.  I believe she is respected and admired in ways that exceed age, class and ethnicity.

Which is a lead-in to one of the links provided below on an open letter to Toni Morrison by 'Anti' filled with angst and questions surrounding her decision to leave her papers to Princeton, an institution she taught at for 17 years.  He states a good case and it is brilliantly written and one can actually feel the emotional and mental anguish of one whose sheroe and literary giant has taken a position that defies his perception of her 'being'.  We all do it at one time or another if we're honest with ourselves.

I've provided a link to a panel discussion led by Marc Lamont Hill with Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr., Dr. Greg Carr and Dr. Susana Morris and the young man, Anti-Intellect who wrote the letter to Ms. Morrison questioning her choice. The pros and cons offered by this esteemed panel on her decision to do so are legitimate and reveals this double consciousness {W.E.B. DuBois construct} that many black scholars/writers  wrestle with when it comes to leaving their papers to or teaching at institutions of higher learning. The question of Howard or other Historically Black Colleges and Universities' limited resources, solvency and frankly ability to 'bid' or house these important papers lend to the complexity of the issue.

There are two of a number of examples that come to mind in regard to the complexity of these matters.  I recently addressed on my side bar an article on Alain Locke, Father of the Harlem Renaissance, Chair of Philosophy at Howard and Rhodes Scholar's cremains interred 60 years after his death in the Congressional  Cemetery, September 13, 2014 .  The remains had been stored in the archive area of  Howard University and it was a small group of black scholars who decided it was way overdue to bury them with a historical marker.  Fisk University, at one time, was trying to sell valuable paintings due to financial woes and many of them were damaged due to neglect.  The concern is would Howard be in a position to take care of her papers and will they be readily accessible to others or forgotten in the archives.  To further add to the angst, there are rumors/examples given of moldy or lost papers in boxes stored in a number of HBCUs.  Ouch....I know...uncomfortable but it's a refrain I've read on other sites or heard as indicated on the link to the videotaped panel discussion.

 With that said, I think highly of Toni Morrison and as I've asserted many times that it was her novel 'Song of Solomon' one of her earlier works  that re-inspired my interest in fiction.  I  favored non-fiction at that time, i.e., social,  political and biographical works. Many of her books line my personal library and some of them are also non-fiction.  She is a true scholar, yet, celebrates the full breath of the black experience in this country and offers no apologies when she's challenged on the perceived balkanization of her body of work. There was an interview that I remember in which she was asked why the majority of her narratives are about the black experience and this is not a direct quote but the essence of one of her remarks was, would this person ask a white author why does he/she just write about white people.  The latter would be taken for granted.

There is one aspect at the core of this public debate that I've been guilty of with the history of coming from the black radical tradition. That is a tendency to want to claim...yes...I said claim our heroes/sheroes and people of color from all walks of life who do great things that enhance humanity which also includes our institutions.  I'm sure the marginalization and at times omission of our individual/group accomplishments over the decades lend to this phenomena.  We are now in an era  where indeed "many things are true at once" for we have Generation X, Generation Y which includes the Millennials & Gen Next who stressed individualism over group identity for surely we are beyond color and racial politics.  Then there are many Baby Boomers (my group) who are witnessing a recycling or continuation of many of the injustices and hardships of the past within different contexts at times with facets of revisionism and some that are virtually the same.  The caveat being that this is not absolute which Anti's letter makes clear, yet, there is a pattern that would lead one to make this observation.  It's also a speculation and a recurring idea for me and certainly a case for consideration.

In closing, I must admit that I would have savored stating that Ms. Morrison bequeathed her papers to Howard University notwithstanding the unknown realities that influenced her decision to give them to the institution she taught at for many years. During a written conversation with my eldest daughter, who is a published poet and adjunct professor; it became clear that there were positions we shared and others that were debated.  She cited that:

   "It's SO complicated and there are so many variables.
I do think it's highly unfair to somehow insinuate 
her decision is an indicator of racial allegiance or 
pride. She's always come from a position of strength
and knowing her worth. " 

It would be interesting if Ms. Morrison responds to Anti's letter and if she doesn't; I wouldn't be surprised for she's stood solid in her truths over the years and those of us who love and respect her being and literary genius...should just DEAL with it!!


Toni Morrison Speaks of Legacy at Princeton (Vimeo)
 An Open Letter to Toni Morrison by Anti-Intellect
Do Tony Morrison's Papers Belong at Princeton or Howard? {Video Panel Discussion}


Deb said...

Hey Sis. Carolyn! Still busy trying to acclimate myself to South Carolina again!

Read your piece and followed the links (linked to the panel discussion on my blog) and, while there's much about which we can debate, I have to agree with your final admonition that we "...should just DEAL with it!! After all, no matter how much we kick it around, she's made her decision -- which was hers to make.

I just hope that those, like us (and Anti-), who've read, collected and admire all of her work, who've financially supported her through her leaner times as she honed her craft, writing about our experiences at an HBCU no less, will take away a very valuable, cultural and real-world lesson about "links and legacy" as well as "Capitalism and Slavery."

After reading and listening to the cacophony of opinions, all that kept reverberating in my mind, my very soul, were the last three sentences in Eric Williams afore-mentioned book: The historians neither make nor guide history. Their share in such is usually so small as to be almost negligible. But if they do not learn something from history, their activities would then be cultural decoration (emphasis mine), or a pleasant pastime, equally useless in these trouble times."


Deb said...

I apologize (the "stroke hand tends to have a mind of its own!), there should be an apostrophe before The historians... and a "d" after trouble at the end!

Carolyn Moon said...

I'm glad you stopped by Sis Deb and as you are getting acclimated to South Carolina; I know your future posts will get more informative as 2016 nears.

I like that quote by Eric Williams and I'm still "marinating" ^◡^ on it. Thanks for the heads up for I plan to read the book.

BTW: My mind's eye saw that apostrophe and the 'd' at the end of trouble!! ^◡^
It's all good and peace to you.

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