“To Give a Being Like Me Language” – Akwaeke Emezi on Toni Morrison

After Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison died just a few days ago, I thought a lot about what her work meant to me, and I read a lot of tributes to her. The piece of writing that struck me most is this letter by nonbinary writer/ogbanje Akwaeke Emezi:

The elderspirit of you leapt into my head the day Professor Mayes played a VHS tape from her archive of an interview you gave after you won the Nobel Prize.
‘I stood at the border, stood at the edge, and claimed it as central. Claimed it as central, and let the rest of the world move over to where I was.’
Your words reached like an arm of fire out of that television screen, and I swear they were just for me. This is the you I know. It is no small thing to give a being like me language.”

Their letter was published by Them.

The letter may be the most beautiful, center-challenging – and in that combination most Morrison-like – piece I read these days. Morrison’s writing meant a lot to me, but I can barely start to understand what she meant to people who live closer to the edges than I do.

Happy 100th Birthday Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, painter, activist, and co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers turned 100 years old today.

Ferlinghetti is maybe best known for “A Coney Island of the Mind” and as publisher of the beat poets, which included being arrested for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and the ensuing First Ammendment trial.

My favorite work of his is the little book Poetry As Insurgent Art which a good friend gifted me a few years ago.
A few of my favorite quotes:

  • “The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.”
  • “Haunt bookstores.”
  • “Think long thoughts in short sentences.”
  • “Don’t ever believe poetry is irrelevant in dark times.”

Image: Christopher Michel, CC BY 2.0

Wole Soyinka in Conversation With Henry Louis Gates

The New York Review of Books published a long, wide-ranging interview of Wole Soyinka, Nigerian Nobel Laureate in Literature, by Henry Louis Gates. The conversation touches on Trump and why Soyinka cut up his green card, the African diaspora, desegregating motel swimming pools, Obama and burdening a leader with a Peace Prize, federalism in Nigeria, classism in South Africa, women’s rights and fundamentalism, and Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize. I can only recommend reading it in full:

There’s One Humanity or There Isn’t’

Image: Frankie Fouganthin (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Toni Morrison on Embracing Failure as Information

It’s as though you’re in a laboratory and you’re working on an experiment with chemicals or with rats, and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t mix. You don’t throw up your hands and run out of the lab. What you do is you identify the procedure and what went wrong and then correct it. If you think of [writing] simply as information, you can get closer to success.

Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison turns 88 on Monday.

Her new essay collection, The Source of Self-Regard, was released last week in Germany and I can’t wait to delve in.

Image: Angela Radulescu, cc-by-sa 2.0

It’s all about balance. Without my writing, I would feel very isolated. The world is such a beautiful and complex place, and science only has limited access to its wonders. Science is dominated by strict rules which preclude emotions, and I would never allow my emotions to influence my research. So, to balance out my life, I write fiction and take photographs.

I don’t think teenagers reading literature need to see a world they know; I think they need to see a world they know isn’t bullshit.

Went out to buy a book by the new Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro, bought the new rupi kaur “The Sun and Her Flowers” instead. I’m fine with that.

Our fiction casually adjusted to accommodate the blast, even if we thought we were writing far from the blast, we were, indeed, not writing about the blast at all. The world had already been absurd, to those paying attention to the unending reported and even more unreported brutalities around the globe; perhaps the world is just more likely to look different as a multiracial child from a former European colony, where the scars of colonialism never fully heal, even if, like me, you grew up after independence. But now, perhaps, a new generation of writers would be unable to avoid the instability, the absurdity, of the post-9/11 world.

Maybe this is Murakami’s chthonic insight: that the dark underground, where the bad things wait […] is not that deep down.  The underground can’t stay buried. Reality A and B are indeed different—but like parallel train tracks in his fiction, they would inevitably crash. Perhaps Reality A—9/11—was inevitable; had it not happened then, it would have happened soon enough.