Note: Oopsie. Not for the first time, I misread a press release and got a date wrong on the original post of this event. The movie about Nobel laureate Toni Morrison will take place on July 25 at the Magic Lantern Theater. I'll post another reminder closer to that date.
When I was a kid, America had six Nobel Prize winners for literature. And I could rattle them off as easily as I could, say, the vowels in the English language.
In order, they were Sinclair Lewis (1930), Eugene O'Neill (1936), Pearl Buck (1938), William Faulkner (1949), Ernest Hemingway (1954) and John Steinbeck (1962).
I devoured Hemingway and Steinbeck, dabbled in Faulkner, mostly ignored Lewis and Buck, and didn't experience O'Neill until I began seeing his plays both on the stage and in the movies — which seemed fitting.
Then, progressively, more winners came along: Saul Bellow (1976), Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978), Joseph Brodsky (1987), Toni Morrison (1987) and, most recently (and, let's face it, surprisingly) Bob Dylan (2016).
All of the 11 have individual identities, some of which are particularly special: Buck and Morrison are the only women; O'Neill, Faulkner and Hemingway are among the most revered names of 20th-century literature; Singer and Brodsky are hyphenated Americans (Singer being born in Poland, Brodsky in Russia); Dylan is (and remains) the inscrutable poet-troubadour.
Morrison, though, deserves a category all her own. She stands out not just because of her gender, and her race, but because of how powerfully she wrote of the black experience. And yet her many works — among them "Beloved" and "Song of Solomon" — are more than mere racial studies. As the Nobel Prize committee pointed out, "Her works often depict difficult circumstances and the dark side of humanity, but still convey integrity and redemption. The way she reveals the stories of individual lives conveys insight into, understanding of, and empathy for her characters."
Anyone wanting to know more about Morrison, including how she reacts to descriptions of her work, will be able to see a documentary film titled "Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am," which will screen at 7 p.m. Thursday (note: July 25) at the Magic Lantern Theater. The movie will be presented by two Gonzaga University professors, Jessica Maucione and Inga Laurent. Maucione is an Associate Professor of English and Women's & Gender Studies, while Laurent is an Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Externship Program at the GU School of Law.
Admission to the screening is $9. Which is cheap, considering that it affords the opportunity to learn not just about one of the 11 American Nobel laureates but also about how well the written word plays on a movie screen.