Posted by : Halima Khait Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I recently began reading Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.  
The book consists of three essays:  Black Matters, Romancing the Shadow and Disturbing Nurses and the Kindness of Sharks.

I've nearly completed the first piece and had to record my initial thoughts. The essay focuses on the effect removing Africanist culture from literature has had on American writers, who were largely white males. 

This study is broadening my literary horizons for a number of reasons. First, while it is more common to see a white, male author surmise how women or individuals of another race perceive the world, it's not as common to see an author of another race and gender turn the tables.  So Toni Morrison's take, as a black woman, offers a dynamic perspective on how race in American literature imposes itself on this group.  Needless to say, the confidence she approaches this task with is inspiring to me as a black, female writer.

Second, I've always been angered by the fact that African American history has been removed and taught separately from American history as though one can exist without the other.  That being said, I've never carried this thought process into American/African American literature.  I've always attributed the lack of African American presence or our negative portrayal in American literature to the fact that the authors write about what they know or, more accurately, think they know. I assumed DuBois' veil was in play; white culture's lack of true understanding of our culture blocking them from creating characters of any true substance.  Furthermore, though I've lamented on what our absence or negative portrayal has done to the readers of American literature, I've never considered the effect it's had on the authors. 

Lastly, I want to share a quote I fell in love with from the preface:

The imagination that produces work which bears an invites rereadings, which motions to future readings as well as contemporary ones, implies a shareable world and an endlessly flexible language.
And another from Black Matters:
Writers are among the most sensitive, the most intellectually anarchic, most representative, most probing of artists.  The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.
These capture just what I hope to one day achieve with my writing - to create something beautiful and meaningful that stands the test of time.  Toni Morrison has made it apparent just how much responsibility comes with this dream.

Feb. 20, 2013 Update: I just finished this book.  I can only say it's complex yet amazing.  I picked it up as a writer always seeking to learn more about my trade, but I'd definitely recommend it to anybody who loves literature.

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