When author Jami Attenberg saw readings of the late Pulitzer-and-Nobel-prize winning author Toni Morrison’s work popping up around the country, she wanted New Orleanians to be able to pay homage to Morrison as well. She sent out a tweet and a Facebook post, and began planning a reading of Morrison’s work that will take place Sunday, August 25 at Southern Rep Theatre.
Morrison, who died Aug. 5 at the age of 88, was a novelist, playwright, editor and professor at Princeton University known for her novels, like “Song of Solomon,” and “Beloved,” that explore black identities and experiences.
“I know Toni Morrison was extremely important and influential to me as a writer. I just genuinely love her work and felt like she reinvented the novel every time she sat down to write,” Attenberg said. “I was really feeling sad for a lot of my peers and feeling like I wanted to honor Miss Morrison, but I also wanted to honor a lot of writers that I know.”
Currently, a dozen writers have signed up to read their choice of Morrison’s novels, essays, criticisms and speeches for three- to five- minute slots. Readers include both those Attenberg knew previously from the writing community and others who reached out to her wanting to participate.
Featured readers are novelist and Tulane assistant professor Bernice McFadden; Sarah M. Broom, author of “The Yellow House”; author Ladee Hubbard, poet Kelly Harris, writer and artist Kristina Kay Robinson and others.
Sarah M. Broom made national headlines and Gambit’s front cover this week with the release of her memoir “The Yellow House” about growing up i…
McFadden said she was first introduced to Morrison’s work when she was 19, taking a hardcover copy of Morrison’s 1987 novel “Beloved” from her boyfriend’s sister who was away at boarding school at the time. (She still has the copy today.) Though it took her nearly a decade before she fully resonated with the material, once she did, Morrison’s work expanded McFadden’s possibilities as a writer, she said.
“What Toni did for me through her work was allow me to write the story that I wanted to write without the pressure of writing within or beneath the white gaze,” she said, “to be able to portray black people as black people, and not what white people perceive black people to be. To not write through the lens of whiteness, that's what she gave me permission to do.”
The black-owned Community Book Center next to Southern Rep Theatre also will be involved with the event, selling Morrison’s books, as well as some of the other authors’ books in attendance.
“When I was growing up, there was just no reference. There certainly wasn’t a book about coming from New Orleans East.” — Sarah M. Broom, author of "The Yellow House"
“New Orleans is such a hub for culture — not just music but literary culture as well — that it is important to celebrate her because she touched so many lives all around the globe,” McFadden said. “Honestly, every city in America should be having some sort of celebration to honor her and to make sure that people who were unfamiliar with her work [are introduced] to her work as well.”
The free event will take place from 5-7 p.m.