Nobel Prize Winner Appears at Temple University
In 1993 Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Frequently compared to the southern novelist William Faulkner, Morrison has written extraordinary, highly poetic and original novels about the south and about race relations. In April 1998, Morrison gave a lecture in Boyer Theater at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She read from her new novel Paradise, which was published that same year. In the poem, the speaker is a member of the audience who hears Morrison’s presentation. Morrison’s reading at Temple was very well received.
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Alexander uses literary allusion in her poem “The Toni Morrison Dreams” by making reference to other literary works. In the second part of the poem, one of the strategies Morrison suggests is to adapt the 1907 play Playboy of the Western World to a contemporary stage. The assumption is that the workshop participants know this work by the late-nineteenth-century Irish playwright, John Millington Synge. The play is about a son’s rebellion against his father and the way in which the son is evaluated by others. In order to try out Morrison’s strategy, the participants have to know the play. Morrison also asks participants to translate The Birds, a comedy by Aristophanes, which would require them to know Greek.
First-Person Point of View
Alexander uses the eye witness of a single speaker who reports on what Morrison says and does. The speaker quotes Morrison as she addresses her audience and the workshop participants. Everything the poem presents comes through the speaker’s eyes, from her point of view. This angle on the subject emphasizes the celebrity status of Morrison and the adoration of the speaker who wants to be noticed and validated by Morrison. Though the speaker seeks validation for her writing, she reports that Morrison does not love her writing but does love her baby, which suggests that Morrison is quicker to validate her as a mother than as a writer....
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Topics for Further Study
Keep a dream book for several weeks, then take story lines and images from the recorded dreams to make up some poems. Read these poems to your classmates and invite them to analyze the poems’ meanings.
Research Sigmund Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) in order to learn about Freud’s theories concerning the subconscious and how dreams contain symbols and imagery that may be interpreted as revealing the dreamer’s psychological makeup and may then be used for creative work. Then write a short story about a person who has high dream recall and finds the answers to his or her daytime problems by paying attention to the recalled dreams.
Attend a literary conference held by a local college or university and observe the key note speaker’s behavior and body language as you listen to their presentation. Then write a character study of that speaker, selecting details that hint at who the real person is behind the performance.
Do some research on groupies, people who follow a particular musician or actor and attend their performances in the hope of getting some personal contact with the person. Write a paper about how celebrities and their fans interact, both in positive and negative ways. Such a paper might examine, for example, the possible causes for Princess Diana’s death in a car crash.
In 1974, the term “supermom” was coined. It describes a woman who fulfills all the traditional wifely...
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What Do I Read Next?
Alexander’s first book of poetry, The Venus Hottentot (1990), was praised widely and the title poem is often anthologized.
In 2004, Graywolf Press published a new book of essays by Alexander. The Black Interior takes a look at the role of the African American artist, both in the black community and in the larger dominant white culture.
Smoke, published by BOA Editions in 2000, is a collection of poems by Dorianne Laux. These works vividly portray such diverse topics as the portrait of a daughter, a wife’s erotic longing for her husband, and popular culture.
Winner of the thirteenth annual Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize, Echolocations, by Diane Thiel, explores various subjects connected to themes of dislocation, landscape, and memory. Thiel’s poems stretch across time and continent to include a parent’s memories of being a boy in Germany during World War II. This collection was published by Story Line Press in 2000.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Alexander, Elizabeth, “The Toni Morrison Dreams,” in Antebellum Dream Book, Graywolf Press, 2001, pp. 30–33.
Burt, Stephen, “Poetry in Review,” in Yale Review, Vol. 90, July 2002, pp. 170–85.
Lynch, Doris, Review of Antebellum Dream Book, in Library Journal, Vol. 127, January 2002, p. 108.
Review of Antebellum Dream Book, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 248, No. 130, July 23, 2001, p. 68.
Baker, Houston A., Jr., Workings of the Spirit: The Poetics of Afro-American Women’s Writings, DIANE Publishing, 1998.
Alexander and Patricia Redmond provide phototext for Baker’s analysis of African American women’s writings and theories developing about African American studies. Baker examines Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men, Morrison’s Sula, and Ntozake Shange’s Sassafrass. The book includes thirty-nine images of black women which convey in picture form the poetics Baker discusses.
Egar, Emmanuel Edame, Black Poets of Harlem Renaissance, University Press of America, 2003.
Unlike most of the previous studies of the Harlem Renaissance, this book looks at the literary achievement of women poets active during this period and subsequently ignored or omitted. Egar argues that African American women poets of this period wrote about...
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