One of the many remarkable things about the late great novelist Toni Morrison is that she did not publish her first novel until she was 39. At that point she was already well into a literary career, having become the first black female editor in fiction at Random House a few years earlier.
“Navigating a white male world was not threatening,” she says in Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ 2019 documentary, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. “It wasn’t even interesting. I was more interesting than they were.”
And oh boy, was she. The voice she brought to bear in that first novel, The Bluest Eye, was much more than “interesting”; it was acclaimed by the influential New York Times critic John Leonard as encompassing “history, sociology, folklore, nightmare and music,” in prose “so precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry.” She would go on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award for her third novel, Song of Solomon, the Pulitzer Prize for her searing masterpiece about the scars of slavery, Beloved, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Her talent as a novelist was matched by her insight as an essayist, and she was as powerful and distinctive a speaker as she was a writer.
Morrison died in August of this year at the age of 88, and tonight at the Palladium her unmistakeable voice will be heard again in a screening of the documentary, which opened to critical acclaim in NYC just a few months before her death. The evening will begin with remarks by four dependably eloquent speakers: St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin; Studio@620 Executive Director Bob Devin Jones; Tampa Bay Times Book Editor Colette Bancroft; and Diane Bailey Morton, executive director of the Warehouse Arts District Association (WADA). The ArtsXchange at WADA was originally slated to be the venue for this event, but interest was so strong it had to be moved to the much larger Palladium.
The Palladium, 253 5th Ave. N., St. Petersburg. Doors open at 6 p.m. Program begins at 7 p.m. Tombolo Books will be selling Toni Morrison books in the Palladium lobby. It’s a free but ticketed event; register ahead of time at warehouseartsdistrictstpete.org.