On the West Side, a tribute to Toni Morrison on her birthday

Front Porch Art Center hosted Feb. 18 party in honor of late Nobel laureate

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Print

By Bonni McKeown

A dozen black women from various Chicago neighborhoods gathered Feb. 18 on the West Side to celebrate a literary foremother whose books have articulated many people's feelings and experiences. Toni Morrison died Aug. 5, 2019, at age 88. She was the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

The Front Porch Art Center, the organization founded by Keli Stewart, invited people to a party on Feb. 18, Morrison's birthday, to read quotations from the author's work while enjoying cake and cupcakes provided by Brown Sugar Bakery, which has a presence in Austin. 

"We see the front porch as a place where we gather," Stewart said. "They say the West Side is hood, but I say we are really country. I think our stories are preserving some important stuff. Toni Morrison's stories make up for the absence of stories about what happened in Mississippi before our parents came here." 

Shani Smith, a South Side community activist, reinforced Stewart's point.  

"My grandfather had to escape from a plantation," she said. "So I say I'm just the second generation out of slavery."

Marche Pernell, a young Austin resident, said she feels muffled by society's racism when trying to express her experiences and feelings. She read a quotation from Morrison's novel Sula. 

"Like any artist without an art form, she became dangerous," the book says. 

Melody Waller of Greater Grand Crossing also quoted from the novel Sula. 

"The cry that had no bottom and no top — just circles and circles of sorrow. We need each other as we go through those circles." 

Waller said her mother, a librarian, introduced her to books by Morrison and other black writers.

Morrison's writing shows the beauty of black people even in times of tragedy and misdeeds.  Her novels come alive with poetry, mysteries and wild women. Everyone attending said their lives were influenced by a Morrison book or quotation.

Tanisha Woodson-Shelby read the scene from Jazz that depicts a couple riding the train to a new life, fearful but finding joy in the dancing motions of the wheels. 

Larissa Johnson of Hyde Park read from Morrison's The Source of Self Regard, a book of essays published last year. Johnson said that African Americans seek a connection with their homeland through people from other parts of the African diaspora.

Stewart read a poetic section from Morrison's novel Beloved, in which she honors all parts of black bodies, often scorned and devalued by a racist system.

"How many times do we tell our liver and our heart, I love you?" the Morrison quotation reads.

Love is something we earn, Morrison explains in her novel Jazz. 

"I didn't fall in love; I rose in it."

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com 

Love the News?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Austin Weekly News and AustinWeeklyNews.com. We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

Reader Comments

No Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2019

To view the full print edition of the Austin Weekly News 2019 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Austin and Garfield Park.


            
AdvertiseClassified
MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad

Classified Ad