“The Toni Morrison Dreams,” by Elizabeth Alexander, was first published in issue 75 of Hanging Loose; next it appeared as part of Alexander’s third collection, Antebellum Dream Book, published by Graywolf Press in 2001. “Antebellum” refers to the period before the American Civil War (1861–1865), and its use here suggests that this collection of dream poems though set in the second half of the twentieth century are of a time before race relations have evolved into a harmonious state of equality. A dream book is a collection of narratives that have dream-like qualities, which means that they mix rational and irrational elements sometimes presenting improbable events as ordinary or based on fact. To say these are dreams is to sanction this departure from verisimilitude, to allow for surprise and illogic which are the stuff of dreams. So the title alone suggests that the collection is a series of dream-like scenarios or scenes somehow connected to an American period of racial injustice.
The poems in Antebellum Dream Book are divided into three parts and “The Toni Morrison Dreams” appears in the second part. The poems include personal vignettes about childbirth, urban life, and historical events such as the mid-twentieth-century race riots and the Civil Rights movement. The poem analyzed in this entry focuses on the hierarchy implicit in a literary conference where aspiring or beginning writers flock to hear the celebrity author Toni Morrison read her own work and comment on theirs.