Honoring the Legacy of Author Toni Morrison

Steve Adubato goes One-on-One with Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Producer & Director of Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, to discuss his new documentary and why he wanted to honor the cultural and historical legacy of author Toni Morrison and her work.

6/21/19 #2228






"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, "Oh, this is something safe," and then... BAM! Hit 'em with Toni Morrison! [music playing] One of the early 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. I know you're sickened to death for being labeled a "black writer." I prefer it. Oh, I thought you probably were tired of it. Well, I'm tired of people asking the question! [laughter] Oh. Oh yes. Oh yes. [laughter] Wow. That's powerful stuff. That's from Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. We are pleased to be joined by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, the producer and director of this wonderful film. It's great to have you. Thank you. Why Toni Morrison? Well... Why not? [laughter] Well... why not? Certainly, you know, Toni's probably one of the greatest artists of our time. And that's kind of an artist with a capital A. In addition, she and I were friends for 38 years. How so? I photographed her. I have a long career as a photographer, and I photographed Toni in 1981. She came to my studio in the East Village, and we became friends at that moment, and I started to do book covers for her, and eventually, she was very much a part of my life. I did a whole series of films on identity, starting with The Black List, which was on HBO. And Toni was the inspiration for that. So... Toni Morrison? I mean, people identify her, Oprah, you know, "Oh wow! She's a great writer." Who else is Toni Morrison? I think that's what's important about the film, that Toni is more than just the Nobel Prize winning writer. Oh that. [laughter] Right! Oh my God. She was a very important editor at Random House. Really creating a lot of the books and the kind of conversation around black rights in the 60s, late 60s, and 70s. She was a single mother of two children. She was a professor at various colleges, and eventually at Princeton, where she started the Atelier. So it's a... you know, it's not just Toni the writer. It's really this life. And at 88, what a life. What's she like these days? She's always funny..."