"The Toni Morrison Book Club"

By Bennett, Brown-Glaude, Jackson, Williams

Reviewed by Julia

ISBN 9780299324940

In the realm of memoir, I read an incredible book published in February that was unexpectedly imbued with heightened global interest in June. The Toni Morrison Bookclub is the group effort of 4 literature professors and previously published authors from New Jersey: Juda Bennett, Winnifred Brown-Glaude, Cassandra Jackson, and Piper Kendrix Williams. This collective of 3 black women and one white man met regularly to discuss their personal relationship to Morrison's writing and edit and share their work, each composing 3 excellent chapters which join together as a cohesive, energized, driven collection of writing about race and literature, "All of us parents... All of us concerned about the future."  At the time of their writing, our country was rocked by and reeling from the murders of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and Freddie Gray. The book sat on my bookshelf for a rainy day until George Floyd was killed, and the Black Lives Matter movement raised such a storm leading to mass global protests and police reform that I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!  The most powerful chapter that spoke to me was "Why Black Folks Go Crazy", by Jackson, which undoes the mythology of untouchable stoicism in the black community, revealing the deep wounds of inherited and environmental PTSD in need of care.  From the caricature of the strong slave to the media's desire to present black bodies as superhuman, and black women as exotic (read: more animal than woman), Jackson tears down and reveals these dangerous psychological structures.  In a Women Writers course in college, I studied Morrison's Paradise, and I was hooked from the first phrase: "They shoot the white girl first", in which a small community turns against a group of women on the outskirts of town, introduced in reverse. Much of the genius of Paradise is that one can spend the entire book not knowing which of the female characters is white, forcing the reader to come to terms with our subconscious narratives.  I revere Morrison for her skill at suspending a reader's inner dialogue with the force of a character's depths, her intricate, perfectly crafted sentences, and stunning articulation of our country's deep racist core within the framework of fiction.  The Toni Morrison Book Club will add to any reader's thrill in reading the masterpieces of Morrison, succeeding as both testament to the relevancy of her writing and providing brilliant personal narratives as well. I highly recommend it!

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