so here is my story of my brush with greatness!
first, Ms. Morrison was in a really great mood, she seemed rested and really full of energy and enthusiasm. My intuition, seeing her up so close is that she’s a person who gets energy from personal relationships, and there did seem to be a feeling between her and Umberto Eco.
so… after about 40 minutes of Q&A between Umberto Eco
mostly I was just flat out impressed with just how brilliant she is. I’ve watched every interview, read every interview, read all the books, so I obviously realised long ago she’s a genius but I really cannot put into words what I felt like to observe her in person. She is just so fluid and fast intellectually, strong yet poetic in her breathless way of speaking, so many things come together in her that I could not see on a screen or a piece of paper. a brilliant academic analytical mind, a person capable of handling complex emotions, yet a person who seemed very open, honest but also brutally severe when necessary in her ability to size a wide range of issues up. She really is amazing to watch over the course of two hours.
So…. she was very professional the entire time. After about an hour Eco opens up to questions from visitors and I sat silently and didn’t say a word. Then one person’s question leads to another give and take between Eco and Morrison that goes on for about 20 minutes and I start thinking that I lost my chance to ask her my question (that I have wanted to ask her for years) but I still wasn’t convinced to find the courage. Then I thought, here I was, 10 meters from one of the greatest authors in the history of the world, someone from my own hometown, and I was risking to lose the chance that for some short time, Toni Morrison would look at me and listen to me. Then I realised I didn’t want to miss this chance, as I would regret it forever. so…. I start hoping they will open the floor for more questions and indeed they did.
When I got my chance, I stood up and first stated that I was born and raised in Lorain, Ohio. Morrison immediately changed from the very friendly but professional nobel prize winner, to this excited lady and exclaimed “really!!! where did you live”… I answer 40th street and we have a short back and forth and “EVERYBODY” in the place starts looking at me…. For whatever reason though, her excitement to see someone from Lorain completely relaxed me and so now calm, I ask my question.
Of course, I told her first that I was very very proud to be from the same hometown as her.
She had once started in an interview that the citizens of Lorain, a very multi ethic and multi cultural city near Cleveland, were united across racial lines by “poverty”. I told her that my Lorain is the Lorain of the 60s, 70s and 80s and we were united too, but as working class people in that era, and then I asked her the question I have always wanted to ask, which was whether or not she was influenced in any way as an artist by her hometown.
She immediately said yes, talking about how she did not experience segregation as a young person in Lorain and how she was astonished going off to college to travel in places with coloured only rules. She then told a story about meeting a very beautiful dark skinned black girl, whose expressed to her a desire to have blond hair and blue eyes and she immediately first recognised how fantastically beautiful this girl was and second how hideous she would look if she indeed had blue eyes. And, effectively Morrison said that coming from Lorain gave her a strong enough sense of herself as a black woman to be able to clearly see that situation for what it was. Obviously that seed become her first book, which also was based in Lorain.
When I got my book signed, we chatted very briefly (I used Ma’am) and she very generously let me get that photo taken even if there was a long line of folks wanting to get their book signed. We chatted for more than 3 seconds, that’s for sure (I would say almost a minute of greatness) and she asked me if I was from South Lorain, as 40th street goes from the West side to the south side. I confirmed “west” and told her I actually grew up a minute or so from Toni Morrison Elementary School (used to be called Masson and was recently renamed for our most famous citizen). She was really happy about that and told me she has visited the school during her recent visit to Oberlin and Lorain.
So……… that’s that.
A great day!
My friends here all know I am a Toni Morrison nut, so I have gotten to share this also with them but it was nice to be able to share it with you too.