Tag Archives: Toni Morrison

Two Women (Goddesses?), with Great Minds and Great Style…Toni & Angela

I saw this pic on The Silver Girl, author Tayari Jones’ tumblr site, and HAD to share it at SCOTT TOPICS™. Partly out of respect to Tayari–if you haven’t read her beautiful first novel (and Hurston/Wright Award winner for Debut Fiction) Leaving Atlanta, you haven’t read a good novel in years, for one thing–and partly out of respect to the two beautiful, ground-breaking sistas strolling through the city in this photo. You can read Tayari’s blog here. And her new novel The Silver Girl is coming from Algonquin Books next year. (Thanks Tayari!)

Toni Morrison and Angela Davis, in all their funky, intellectual, Afro-wearing glory…one can only IMAGINE what they’re talking about!!!…Hope this pic inspires you like it’s inspired me!

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Filed under books, General Fabulousness, Toni Morrison, WayBack Machine, writing

The SPB Q (Grad Chapter): Farah Jasmine Griffin

I fall in love with writers, and their books. I’m just funny that way, re-reading passages or whole chapters, remembering why the initial pangs of love were there. I knew I was going to fall in love with Farah Jasmine Griffin’s book Who Set You Flowin’: The African-American Migration Narrative when I read the dedication: “For My Grandmother, Willie Lee Carson (1904-1981), who migrated from Eastman, Georgia, to Philadelphia in February 1923; and Her three Philadelphia-born Daughters, Eunice Cogdell (1924-1991), Eartha Mordecai, Wilhemina Griffin.” As a person most interested in African American names, history, and genealogy (and the mothers of mothers who provide all three), I experienced a world in those 33 words, a contained moment of love and honor and respect that felt whole and real. Then I read the epigraphs a few pages later and saw quotes from such richly disparate figures as Toni Morrison, Cornel West and music group Arrested Development—and I knew it was going to be one of those books. And it was. Crossing all kinds of textual terrain in her study of migration as a major theme in African-American culture—Toomer’s Cane, Morrison’s Jazz, the art of Jean Lacy, the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, among other significant texts get investigated—Griffin’s work is like a journey in itself, gracefully climbing the hills and wading the valleys of what she calls the “metanarrative” of the black migration experience with supple prose and clear-eyed cultural and literary analysis.

Currently a professor of English, Comparative Literature and African American Studies at Columbia University, Farah Griffin has served as the director of Columbia’s Institute for Research in African American Studies. She’s what I think of as a truly interdisciplinary academic, casting her scholarly eye on not just literary subjects but also fields like jazz (she co-edited an issue of Callaloo entitled “Jazz Poetics”) and travel writing. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Harper’s Bazaar and the African American Review.

I got to meet Professor Griffin here at Harvard (where she did her undergrad work) a coupla times, most recently at a conference honoring renowned historian and totem of African American studies Nathan Huggins, and she turned out to be as down-to-earth as I thought she might be after (twice!) reading her book. The warmth and regard she expressed for her subjects was exactly the same warmth she exhibited in person, and I’m sure that was why she seemed to be the one person in the room that everyone was drawn to at one point or another. I’m still looking forward to reading her book on Billie Holiday (If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday), but until then it was a pleasure reading her responses to the SPB Q. Hope you enjoy it, too—and definitely check out Farah Griffin’s work if you fall in love with great writing about American history and literature like I do…

Name:  Farah Jasmine Griffin

Hometown:    Philadelphia

School/Year: Harvard, 1985; Yale 1992

Dissertation Title:  “Who Set You Flowin’?: Migration, Urbanization and African American Culture”

Favorite book:  Too Many to Name

Favorite author:  Impossible.  Morrison; Wharton

Favorite movie:  Impossible.  Eve’s Bayou, maybe.  Double Indemnity

Favorite music:  Can’t Do This…Love music too much to have a favorite, but at the top would be Cassandra Wilson’s “New Moon Daughter” and Mary Lou Williams at Montreux

Academic text that most influences your workStephen Kern’s Culture of Time and Space and Cornel West’s Prophetic Reflections: Notes on Race and Power in America (Beyond Multiculturalism and Eurocentrism)

Academic who most influences your work:  Edward Said; Robin Kelley; Thadious Davis

Academic High: Membership in the Jazz Study Group, Columbia University.  Robin Kelley, Salim Washington, Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Diedra Harris Kelley, John Swzed, Fred Moten, and others were my intellectual family, my comrades, my joy.  The set my brain dancing.

Life High:  The day I met the little girls who would become my step-granddaughters:  Diata and Mariam Cannon; my participation in Billie and Me at the Barbican, London.

You’re on a desert island and can only have 5 CDs/books/ or DVDs shipped in to you. What are they?

Your favorite quote:

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” ~ Attributed to Jesus, Gospel of Thomas

Guilty pleasure:

Bad television marathons.

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The SPB Q (Grad Chapter): Salamishah Tillet

“You can mark Du Bois as an important founding father and Anna Julia Cooper as a founding mother of those who used intellectual work to create social change and to do really interesting artistic or literary work alongside or as part of their political mission.” ~ Salamishah Tillet, 2009

{I met Salamishah Tillet, assistant professor in English at the University of Pennsylvania, on a dare. Basically, I dared myself to email all the graduates of Harvard’s Am Civ program who now had tenure (or tenure-track jobs) to find out whatever I could about their experience in the graduate program I planned on attending. Chatting on the phone with Salamishah that first night was like talking to an old friend who just wanted to look out. She gave me the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, and even told me where I might find some good food while chilling in Cambridge for a few years.

Of course, just meeting her, I didn’t know I was talking to the very model of a real public intellectual. Salamishah has really dug deep to examine not just the intellectual intricacies of African American cultural work, as she does in her writing and teaching about black feminist theory, African-American literature, popular music, and film, but has also used her own personal experience to create a celebrated body of work that goes directly to the community. She is the writer and producer of Story of a Rape Survivor (SOARS), an award-winning multimedia performance that tells the story of her own effort to reclaim her body, sexuality, and self-esteem after being sexual assaulted in college (see trailer below). With her sister, Scheherazade Tillet, Salamishah co-founded A Long Walk Home, non-profit that uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to end sexual violence. She is also the development director of Girl/Friends, an art-based, sexual violence prevention summer institute for adolescent girls who have been impacted by violence in the Chicago-area, and in 2006, she served as an associate producer for Aishah Shahidah Simmons’s groundbreaking documentary, “NO!” and is featured in the Cambridge Documentary’s award winning film Rape Is… Also in 2006, Ebony Magazine named her one of America’s top 30 Black leaders under 30 years old.

Salamishah’s scholarly work straddles many areas as well: she is the co-editor of the forthcoming The Day that Martin Died: Music, Memory, and Martin Luther King, Jr. She recently co-edited a special issue on Ethiopia for the journal Callaloo, where she’s an associate editor, and her book Peculiar Memories: Slavery and the Post-Civil Rights Imagination (forthcoming from Duke University Press) examines how contemporary African-American artists and intellectuals re-imagine slavery as a metaphor for post-Civil Rights citizenship and political desire. Currently, this music-lover (who wrote liner notes for John Legend and The Roots’ Wake Up!), is working on a book on Nina Simone.

I was hoping that I’d be able to chill with her in Philly when I head down there for a conference at Penn in September, so we could chat some more about music and TV and all sorts of other good stuff, but no go: homegirl is spending the 2010-2011 school year serving her Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship at the Center of African American Studies at Princeton University.

I’m happy that Salamishah found time to do the SPB Q. She’s been a real inspiration to me as a scholar, a Harvard Am Civ grad, and a new friend. Hope you enjoy her Q!}

Name: Salamishah Margaret Tillet

Hometown: Boston, MA; Port of Spain, Trinidad; Orange, NJ

School/Year: B.A., University of Pennsylvania (1996); M.A.T., Brown University (1997); A.M, Harvard University (2002); Ph.D. Harvard University (2007)

Dissertation Title: “Peculiar Memories: Slavery and the American Cultural Imagination”

Favorite book: Toni Morrison, Beloved

Favorite author: Toni Morrison

Favorite movie: Eve’s Bayou, dir. Kasi Lemmons starring Jurnee Smollett, Lynn Whitfield, and Samuel Jackson

Favorite song: Nina Simone, “Lilac Wine”

Academic text that most influences your work: Henry Louis Gates, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism (1988)

Academic who most influences your work: I think in threes: Farah Griffin, Michael Eric Dyson, and Edward Said

Academic High: Organizing two conferences with my academic partner in crime, the brilliant Dagmawi Woubshet: first, our “The Future of African-American Studies” graduate student conference at Harvard University in December 2000; second, was the Callaloo “(Black) Movements: Poetics and Praxis” conference at Addis Ababa University in July 2010.

Life High: The moment I realized that I had the strength to love and the courage to be loved by my life partner.

You’re on a desert island and can only have 5 CDs/books/ or DVDs shipped into you. What are they?

Your favorite quote: “…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Guilty pleasure: I’m quite guilty: Eating dark chocolate without remorse, watching every episode in the Law & Order franchise, and scheduling my entire Sunday around football.

Attention SCOTT TOPICS™ readers: As SOARS celebrates its 10th anniversary and Girl/Friends turns a year-old (and as they kick off their national “Got Consent?” campaign) all of Salamishah’s great public service work has been rewarded with a nomination for her and her sister as Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year. They need your votes! Click here at GLAMOUR to cast a vote for the Tillet sisters! Voting ends on Monday, August 30, so go now…

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