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39 minutes, with 33 minutes of enrichment material, 2014 A Production of Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University Executive Producer: Joanne V. Gabbin Producer: Judith McCray
ABOUT THE FILM
Those who have thrilled to the magic of Toni Morrison’s writing will not want to miss Sheer Good Fortune, a celebration of America’s only living Nobel Laureate in literature. The luminaries of contemporary African American letters — poets, novelists, critics and actors —gathered in October, 2012 to pay tribute to Morrison, her lifetime achievement and its meaning in their lives and work. Now Sheer Good Fortune allows everyone to participate in that extraordinary evening and appreciate its title: “It is sheer good fortune to miss somebody long before they leave you.” (from Sula.)
Each author reads a selection from Morrison’s incantatory prose, as only writers deeply versed in the cadences of African American speech can, so on their lips it turns to poetry: Rita Dove from Song of Solomon; Toi Derricotte from Sula; Edwidge Danticat from Tar Baby; Mari Evans from The Bluest Eye; Sonia Sanchez from Paradise; Angela Davis from Desdemona; and Tony Medina from Home. Rare choral performances honor the roots of Morrison’s declamatory style in African American churches while India.Arie dedicates a song to her for inspiring younger black artists in other fields.
Maya Angelou recounts how she was strengthened as a black woman by seeing herself portrayed with love and nuance in Morrison’s ten books. Sonia Sanchez credits them with placing African American men and women on the world stage, showing that, despite all they have endured, they remain human. Poet Jericho Brown thanks Morrison for preserving and revivifying black folklore through her distinctive style of magical realism. Wesley Brown praises her novels for finding the universal in the specifics of African American life, while Rita Dove believes they allow students to share the subjective experiences of characters very different from themselves. Poet Nikki Giovanni predicts that Morrison’s greatest impact will be on the generation of writers emerging today.
Finally, Morrison, now 83 and eloquent as ever, sums up the meaning of the evening for her: “Whatever else could happen, this is as good as it gets.” She thanks her predecessors in the Black Arts Movement for their example and support and, addressing aspiring black writers, recommends, “Once you get the white man out of your book, the whole world opens up; you can begin to think about real things, not just respond to stereotypes.”
Sheer Good Fortune documents a moving moment in the evolution of African Americans’ literary identity. In addition to the highlights of the tribute ceremony, the video contains 33 minutes of enrichment commentary by the participants which can help educators and students explore various aspects of Morrison’s work in greater depth, including the value of “Black English,” historical revisionism, African American spirituality, building community through literature, transgressing gender taboos and teaching Morrison’s novels in multicultural settings.
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“The genius of Toni Morrison can only be absorbed like the moonlight on a clear lake; down and down the light flows until only we are floating on a wave of emotion and intellect from which we emerge with newer understanding of words, of history, of the future. The video Sheer Good Fortune is the boat we sail unto that distant Morrison shore.”