Toni Morrison’s novels aren’t for the weak. In the latest documentary of her life ‘The Pieces I Am’ there is a mention that her characters’ jobs are to act as cleansers of the earth. The scorched earth method of Sethe in ‘Beloved’ or Pecola in ‘The Bluest Eye’ are what makes Morrison so compelling, not only as a writer, but as a person. What shapes a woman to write about a mother who would rather slit the throat of her child than have them return to bondage? Who else could examine a beautiful black girl’s longing for blue eyes? Who would dare?
The documentary is in a linear format, punctuated with major turning points in Morrison’s life and career. And though as a package the film is interesting, it’s when Chloe Ardelia Wofford talks about Toni Morrison where you’ll sit forward in your seat. You see Wofford is Morrison. Wofford is the girl who learned how to increase her vocabulary with her sister in front of the mixed cultured community in Ohio, who fiercely loved her family (though they were strict) and knew a little girl who didn’t believe God existed because she prayed for blue eyes for years and he never gave her what she desperately wanted. Toni formed, or perhaps was created from her saint name Anthony and from her ex-husband’s surname Morrison. The author who weaves and spins stories of the black experience is Toni Morrison. The single mother who fought for equal pay among her male contemporaries, at a small press in upstate New York as an editor is Chloe. One informs the other. Do both merge, it’s difficult to say. But during the film you can tell when Chloe is speaking and you know when Morrison is making a point. The one time when Chloe and Toni are one is a clip in which she corrects Charlie Rose. She begins by pointing out that he’s asked the wrong question. That’s Chloe the teacher, the editor, who worked on Angela Davis’ autobiography (published when Davis was 30) tangled with Muhammed Ali while working on his bio, ‘My Own Story.’ She then proceeds to respond to the question he should have asked, that’s Toni the author, who’s always exploring, exposing fears, and forcing readers to search for their own answers.
‘The Pieces I Am’ satisfies the queries of all that encompasses Ms. Morrison. From where she was born to her struggles in being a single mother, the people interviewed in this documentary help those who misunderstand why the white gaze isn’t necessary in telling black stories. Yes, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1993. Being the first black woman to do so is relevant, but it was when she was a girl spelling out an expletive on the sidewalk, that person understood the power of words early. That prize only tells the rest of the world what Toni Morrison readers have known since 1970, this is one writer who knows how to have us face our demons and rejoice in the triumph of surviving, however we believe survival may be.