Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye

When Toni Morrison passed away last year, I asked professor of English literature and author Piper Huguley for advice on which of Morrison’s novels to read. Piper not only offered a recommendation, she advised me on the order I should read these celebrated novels.

 

The Bluest Eye is one of those novels that makes you weep with the injustices inflicted on Black people and the tragic effect of race prejudice on Black children. In a review earlier this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the novel’s publication, The New Yorker has this to say:

Pecola feels, or the world has made her feel, that if she had blue eyes she would, at last, be free—free from her unforgivable blackness, from what her community labelled ugliness long before she could look in a mirror and determine for herself who and what she was. Not that she ever looks in a mirror. She knows what she’d find there: judgment of her blackness, her femaleness, the deforming language that has distorted the reflection of her face.

I highlighted many sentences and paragraphs of The Bluest Eye.

Early in the novel, we are told that: “Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs–all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasures.”

Pecola, who is fostered at the MacTeer home, enjoys milk from a Shirley Temple cup. “It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights–if these eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different … Each night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes.”

Intent on buying candies at the store, Pecola encounters Mr. Yacobowski, a fifty-two-year-old white immigrant storekeeper. “He does not see her, because for him there is another to see.” “She looks up at him and sees the vacuum where curiosity ought to lodge. And something more. The total absence of human recognition–the glazed separateness. … Yet this vacuum is not new to her. It has an edge; somewhere in the bottom lid is the distaste. She has seen it lurking in the eyes of all white people. So. The distaste must be for her, her blackness.”

A group of boys surrounded Pecola, taunting and threatening. “It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds–cooled–and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path. They danced a macabre ballet around the victim, whom, for they own sake, they were prepared to sacrifice to the flaming pit.”

It’s a powerful, must-read novel.

I’ll leave you with a few Toni Morrison quotes:

From her Nobel Lecture.

Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.

From an interview in Oprah Magazine:

I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.’

From her novel Song of Solomon:

“If you wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.

Also from her 1993 Nobel lecture:

We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.

Next up, according to Piper’s list, is Sula, a rich and moving novel that traces the lives of two black heroines from their close-knit childhood in a small Ohio town, through their sharply divergent paths of womanhood, to their ultimate confrontation and reconciliation.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Inside Historical Fiction with Piper Huguley

piper-huguleyPiper Huguley was named in 2015 as a top ten historical romance novelist in Publisher’s Weekly. A great accomplishment. She writes historical fiction featuring African American characters and has very recently released a novella The Washerwoman’s War. Today, we are chatting about the uniqueness of historical fiction.

What are the ‘magic ingredients’ that make historical fiction unforgettable/irresistible? And in your opinion, what do the best historical fiction writers do to ‘get it right’?  Worldbuilding is completely crucial. It’s important for the author to build a world where readers feel transported. So to me, the best historical fiction authors build in the details of everyday life, dress, food, culture, and what’s going on around them. The best historical fiction authors do all of this, without the reader noticing. That, to me, is the tricky part.

Are historical novels inherently different from contemporary novels, and if so, in what ways? They are different because the times are different. However, I think the ongoing struggle with historical fiction is to build a bridge of connection between the author and readers. So to me, there has to be an element of how historical and contemporary novels might resemble one another. When an author can build that bridge, then readers are more willing to read historical fiction.

What aspects about the past do you specifically try to highlight in your novel(s)? My novels don’t sugar coat the past. I want to bring forward a more complete history. There is a lot in the narrative that has been overlooked, so my stories are an attempt to restore some of those voices that have not been heard from for a richer, fuller depiction of history. Rather than focusing on African Americans as victims, my stories show how hard they worked and how they had strong faith in a brighter future for generations to come.

In writing historical fiction, what research and techniques do you use to ensure that conflict, plot, setting, dialogue, and characters are true to the time period? I rely on as many primary sources as I can. This isn’t easy, because there were long periods of illiteracy for African Americans. But they exist. So I go to them. I read the history and literature of the time period as well. As a literature professor, I have to teach this history to my students before they can appreciate the literary work, so it’s work I keep having to review. The history remains fresh and interesting to me in that way.

What aspects do you feel need to be included when you are building a past world for your readers? All of the aspects I listed before as what the best historical fiction authors do to get it right. It’s so important to make historical fiction accessible.

Do you see any particular trends in HF? I’m hopeful there will be more stories of ordinary people. I love the royalty stories as well, but there are a lot of them out there. This tight focus on a small group of people means that historical fiction appears closed off and limited. That kind of rigidity will not help to increase the numbers of readers. There has to be more variety so that more readers might enjoy this rich history in the coming years.

Please tell us a little about your latest novel.

My newest novella, released October 26, 2016, uses the Black Washerwoman’s strike of 1881 in Atlanta as a backdrop.

When Mamie Harper arrives to substitute teach for the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary school, she witnesses terrible injustices with some of the older students who are washerwomen. Mamie’s upbringing as the daughter of the most famous Black suffragette in America means that she cannot be silent. She takes it upon herself to help the washerwomen find their voice and protest their mistreatment.

Reverend Gabriel Harmon is the summer pastor at one of the most influential Baptist churches in Atlanta. When the Black Washerwomen go on strike, he’s brought in to mediate a solution but then realizes the feisty leader of the opposition is the young teacher from Milford who rejected his attempts to court her the year before. When these two collide over explosive events during a hot Atlanta summer, only one side will be able to win the battle. As they clash, they learn there is another war, the war of the heart, that’s worth winning as well.

Many thanks for being on the blog, Piper. I’m sure readers will find your perspectives very interesting. Stories about ordinary people are a passion of mine as well.

Piper G Huguley, named 2015 Debut Author of the Year by Romance Slam Jam and Breakout Author of the Year by AAMBC, is a two-time Golden Heart ®finalist and is the author of “Migrations of the Heart,” a three-book series of historical romances set in the early 20th century featuring African American characters, published by Samhain Publishing. Book #1 in the series, A Virtuous Ruby, won Best Historical of 2015 in the Swirl Awards. Book #3 in the series, A Treasure of Gold, was named by Romance Novels in Color as a Best Book of 2015 and received 4 ½ stars from RT Magazine.

Huguley is also the author of the “Home to Milford College” series. The series follows the building of a college from its founding in 1866. On release, the prequel novella to the “Home to Milford College” series, The Lawyer’s Luck, reached #1 Amazon Bestseller status on the African American Christian Fiction charts. Book #1 in the series, The Preacher’s Promise was named a top ten Historical Romance in Publisher’s Weekly by the esteemed historical romance author, Beverly Jenkins and received Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Contest of Self-Published e-books in 2015.

Her new series “Born to Win Men” will debut in December 2016 with A Champion’s Heart as Book #1. Piper blogs about the history behind her novels at http://piperhuguley.com. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.