The Story of Toni Morrison

June 11, 2020

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am – American Masters premieres on Tuesday, June 23, 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN. Stream for limited time, through June 30, 2020.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), tells the story of a young black girl growing up in the wake of the Great Depression who is abused by her father and vilified by her classmates for her dark skin. In a 1981 Newsweek cover story, Morrison said the book was really about “the people in all literature who were always peripheral – little black girls who were props, background. Those people were never center stage, and those people were me.”

The celebrated author – the first African American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature – is the subject of Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (American Masters: The Women’s List; The Boomer List; and Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart), the film is airing as part of a summer-long PBS celebration of female trailblazers in honor of the women’s vote centennial.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am offers an artful and intimate meditation on the legendary storyteller’s life, her works, and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career. Morrison, author of 11 novels and recipient of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for her novel, Beloved, as well as the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, among many other honors, leads an assembly of her peers, critics and colleagues on an exploration of race, history, America and the human condition – from her childhood in the steel town of Lorain, Ohio, to ‘70s-era book tours with Muhammed Ali, the frontlines with Angela Davis, and her own riverfront writing room.

Woven together with a rich collection of art, history, literature and personality, the film includes discussions about Morrison’s many critically acclaimed works, including novels The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Solomon, her role as an editor of iconic African American literature, and her time teaching at Princeton University.

The film also features conversations with Hilton Als, Angela Davis, Fran Lebowitz, Walter Mosley, Sonia Sanchez, and Oprah Winfrey, who turned Morrison’s novel Beloved into a feature film.

“She took the canon and broke it open,” Winfrey said at a tribute to Morrison at New York City’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine following her death in 2019.

“Great novelists illuminate worlds we dimly know,” said David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. “Great novels either open a door or they turn on the lights. Toni Morrison did it all. She opened the door and she turned on the lights.”

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am – American Masters premieres on Tuesday, June 23, 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN and streams for a limited time, through June 30. Stream films on American Masters now.