Toni Morrison and Imagination

Through her life and writing, Toni Morrison offers us countless insights into transformative radical action and historical imagination. What follows is a transcript of a discussion that took place on the Imaginary School Discord server on March 6th, 2021. The discussion was hosted by Ivy Sole in conversation with Victoria Ford.

In addition to hosting this discussion, the Imaginary School is seeking to sponsor two projects, one visual and one written, created by any and all Black beings who are trans, nonbinary, women or otherwise, in honor of Morrison’s work and memory. These projects would be published on the Imaginary School website with consent of the artists, while the creators retain full ownership of their work. If you would like to submit a proposal, join our Discord and drop a short paragraph about what you have in mind. If you would like to contribute to the sponsor fund, please email [email protected] or reach out to someone on our Steering Committee on Discord.


Ivy Sole: My name is Ivy Sole and I’m joined here by Victoria Ford.

We met in Philly in 2011 and since then we've been writing and learning and growing and surviving. We’re going to be talking about the best writer that has ever graced the planet.

Victoria Ford: My name is Victoria Ford, I use she/her, they/them pronouns. I’m Memphis Tennessee. I'm currently sheltering in place Washington DC.

We met at Penn and took classes together but before we get into that, we met through poetry, so our friendship and just our being with one another through this journey, through surviving, living, and thinking, imagining and was alway located there.

I'm really happy to be here to think with you all. Very excited to talk about Toni and think about Toni and be present with her as she is present with us even after life.

Ivy: One of the things we’ve been talking about in preparation for this has been our first academic interactions and being in the same class for Jazz is a Woman. Was it freshman fall or freshman spring?

Victoria: Freshman spring, so 2012.

Ivy: So it was spring 2012, it was taught by Drs. Salamisha Tillett and Guthrie “Guy” Ramsey.

It was really special I think simply because it combined English and music which is something that I hadn't experienced before and obviously Toni Morrison’s book Jazz was a perfect way to combine the two. So we read that book and a lot of other amazing works and listened to a lot of music. Having these two artforms in conversation with each other was a first for me. I’m not sure if it was the first time for you.

Victoria: Yeah, it was the first time and the last time (laughs) in my academic career at Penn. It was really special because there were so many folks from our class coming from different points. English majors, folks studying music, Africana––so I feel like our conversations are really interesting and thinking about particularly when we were talking about Toni.

Ivy: Well let’s just get it out of the way, she has a level of craft that most writers aspire to. Not just Black people, Black women––she’s a standard for storytelling. I would love to hear what elements of her writing give you whatever it gives you.

Victoria: To answer that question I'm also thinking about, Spring 2012 because it’s the semester that Toni came to visit Penn. She was being awarded the Beacon award from the Council of Penn women, so it was such a special time to be taking that course.

I say special too but it was like such a vulnerable time I remember for us because being in that class I was so aware of how much was robbed from me in my earlier education in high school especially. So I was very aware of not even fully being able to absorb all of the brilliance from Toni in that moment because I had to unlearn everything I was taught about how to think and how to read.

Something that I want to share is that former classmate of ours interviewed Toni. And one of the things that we had discussed in [class] was Toni Morrison's genius. [Our classmate] had asked Toni about genius, that definition of her and her work and how she kind of moves with that. [Toni] was very upset at the use and employment of that term for herself and she really rejected it.

...There are a few portions early on in this transcript where the audio drops out. We’ll signal that with ellipses. You really had to be there!...

It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I had a conversation with a really dear friend of mine about how to talk about [describing] what her work is doing. And my friend Catherine was saying “oh what about what about generosity”. What is and what does generosity look like as a Praxis as a practice in your artwork as a method. I think about generosity in her storytelling particularly when I think about Black women, Black women's friendships, Black mother-daughter relationships.

That's one of the main takeaways from my own writing and thinking about what generosity looks like as a practice for mine from the start making an act like the Locust and space that I can hold which is a collective.


Ivy: There's an Afropessimist writer and professor we’ve been reading and thinking and struggling with by the name of Hortense Spillers.

In Mama's Baby Papa's Maybe she starts to construct a language for the flesh during antebellum slavery from a ontological perspective, so thinking about how the world is made and how these worlds are, there's so much overlap with what Toni was doing in Beloved and what Toni was doing in Sula and what she was doing in The Bluest Eye. She's taking these things that we know to be true but cannot name. In the western world you need evidence.

Evidence gives you access to other people's belief and Toni said to hell with––this is what I have this is what I know to have happened despite not having being told that it happened and those connections between them makes me feel known because I know that what I experienced whether or not it's told to anyone else that other people have experienced it as well and I think that's like a magic that really and truly only Black women have access to.

Read any other authors and stop the same way and I'm just like she also was so generous in the way that she championed other Black women writers. We wouldn't have a lot of the other Black women on our bookshelves in 2021 if she wasn't making sure it wasn't just her voice that was being heard.


Victoria: …grounded in truth right? And she’s talking about truth a lot, and she always - she’s always circling around truth. Anyway, and it just made me think of, beginning from that place of naming the exhaustion of it—the- the personal, political exhaustion and irritability within—within even the question have—being posed, so much, so it just makes me think—something that you said just thinking about evidence in her response in that, which is often her response I feel like in a lot of interviews, that, that—constant permanent irritability in answering unanswerable questions but also questions that are the wrong question.

Ivy: Yeah.

Victoria: She’s often always like, “You not asking me the right question so I'm going to answer the question—

Ivy: “That you should have asked” - Yeah.

Victoria: (laughs)

Ivy: It strikes me as very - it's like - that era of Black woman born in the thirties is very tangible to me, because that's my grandmother, those are my great aunts, like, Toni feels like someone I know very, very very intimately. So when she almost scowls at the interviewer, like with the, like, the feeling of, like, “I cannot believe that you have the audacity to ask me what you just asked me when you just asked me it, and I can't really respond to you the way that you deserve to be responded to, but I'm going to do it anyway because, like, what am I but the descendent of a slave in a stolen nation” - that type of vibe? Like I'm just like, I see you… I see… I see the um… I see the care and the generosity that you have of your intellect to like explain this to someone who does not deserve an explanation.

Yeah and the last thing that I’ll say on this part is that - because of course I'm responding to your response to me about evidence - is that even when we do have evidence, I think what I'm finding is that every single thing in the western world, and I say this not to be like alarmist or to make it bigger than what it is - it truly is that even when we do you have evidence that is often not sufficient to have the outcome of justice, of equality, of equity, of etc. etc. etc. And the reason why I say that is because when we were reading Hortense Spillers in conversation with Toni’s work, one of the things that we happened upon was a - was an ad for enslaved Africans that were sickly or “didn't have much like work left in them” for whatever reason, and there was an address there for Charleston - it’s like 110 Main Street or something. And then we google it, and right now it’s like, it’s probably like a Brooks Brothers or a Lululemon or something. So like… I come from a religious tradition that has a very precarious relationship with fire, right? So like the Black Baptist tradition, like they always talk about the fire of the spirit, and the fire of the holy ghost, and this stuff, right? There are so many things in this country that deserve to be burned down, and just like completely leveled, like it should not exist anymore. And a place where sickly slaves were sent to get, like, experimented on, I think that fits the bill. And even with that evidence, even with that like, that level of inhumanity, if someone were to burn down that building and say this is why, it would be insufficient to...say that, and for it to be...logical in the western court of law or the American psyche, but I don't think that many people who are the descendants of enslaved Africans would question it, to a certain extent. On a very base level, if they saw it burning, and if they knew why, it would - there would be a level of acceptance there that would surpass...understanding.

Victoria: Yup…yup…

It’s… It’s so funny you're saying that too. I was thinking about - I mean I know, on my little notes sheet I’m thinking about the elements. So I'm thinking of burning, and then thinking of flooding, and thinking about—

Ivy: (laughs)

Victoria Yeah… and if not burn, then there’s a necessary flooding that needs to happen. Which, you know, well - to also read to this quote for folks who don’t know… Toni Morrison talked a lot about - so many Black women writers talk about memory and water together. Which, I, Ivy and I have been thinking about and talking about too. The quote that I’m referring to, Toni says, “floods is the word they use but in fact it's not flooding it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” And I'm thinking about these places that are necessarily and destined to be destroyed, but also like taken back, and how Toni write that into our… writes a grammar for that in similar ways that, you know, Lucille Clifton, Christina Sharpe, Dionne Brand… it's a litany of Black women who are writing about, writing about that, and I think writing about that necessarily too. Yeah… I know… I know we were thinking about talking about memory, and… rememory and memory in this conversation too, but…

Ivy: Yeah! I don’t know I’m just gonna… I need to sit with that quote again. I mean it’s one of my favorites, right… it’s just that…

Sometimes I feel like a broken record in the sense that, for me, it always comes back to the transatlantic slave trade, right? To a certain extent, everything I am goes back to that moment in 1619, door of no return, right? And like, if humans are literally 70% water, then I will always be trying to get back to where I came from, you know? Like so, it’s like almost like a difficult thing to accept that like, there are forces in our bodies that demand realities that we can’t- we don't actually have access to. So it’s… Yeah, it’s just like… I'm sure Toni knew that, right? Like… Toni’s like… I shouldn’t be here! And we talk about it a lot, particularly in the context of gender, because… okay I'll explain it a little bit further… The word “human,” the word “man” and “woman” are Western fictions. They’re creations by European people who have been inflicted upon the rest of the world, right? That's not something that's actually debatable anymore, because we have the research behind it. Like, like so many languages changed as a result of Western colonization and the enslavement of African peoples. So, I should not be subjected to Western standards of anything, of the definition of human, of the definition of nature, of the definition of man, woman, etc. Those should not apply to my African body. And they, like, I, I simply just choose to believe that they do not exist. But, that return, like trying to push not only me but the rest of the world and that reality to that return, to the cosmology and the theology and just like the literal reality of before all of this went awry is so difficult to- it's hard to be in two places at once, more or less.

Victoria: Wow, yeah. It is hard to be in two places at once and also arriving… I feel like what I'm thinking about is like this constant arrival to, basically what you’re saying… Arriving back to what was taken, and the process of that and, yeah… That’s a flood in and of itself, so…

Ivy: And I think that, often, on like a… so like, human’s term these acts of large natural events as natural disasters. And I’ve always had a problem with that, ever since I was like younger. Because the disaster is the destruction caused by the storm. But if you, if you lived by nature’s law… If you didn't build close to the tide… if you didn’t, like, continue to build houses in biomes, like Chaparral, like in California in the hills, where it’s supposed to burn… it’s supposed to- like that's how it regenerates itself, like, fired are supposed to happen there. So, I understand that your house is there, and I don’t want you to be destroyed by that, but I also think that nature is greater and longer existing than that home so like, the fact that it needs to regenerate itself, that's like natural law. Like… I don’t, I don’t know what you want me to do… you know what I mean? (laughs)

Victoria: (laughs)

Ivy: Like if we were committed to… and I say we in the sense that I am complicit in the Western world because I am a part of the Western world unfortunately. But, we choose not to listen to nature like - choose not to abide by natural law and suffer the consequences of doing so, but people don't put it together that way. And there's plenty of reasons but I'm going to sum it up in the word that we all love - capitalism.

Victoria: Yeah… we don’t love it… (laughs) yeah… it’s um… other… I’m thinking about this and relationships to nature in going back to thinking about water… and this is connecting this thought with another thought, but, another quote that - so William C. Anderson had actually made a thread on Twitter about Black women and water, and so Ivy and I had been pulling these quotes, but Dionne Brand writing and saying “I do not believe in time, I do believe in water.” And I'm thinking a lot about what you're saying about nature and our relationship to nature and whatever links there are to also time, and regeneration like you're saying, but of course, like, the logic, without having an understanding of all of these oppressive systems, and… or- and/or just pushing against them, which may be a form of survival but that’s really delusion, it’s illegible to understand that as a regeneration even if like, zoo books is telling you that is for regeneration, it becomes an assault and it becomes an assault to property and capital, because that’s the rearrangement. As opposed to… so anyway, I’m thinking about that- nature and time. Dionne Brand talking about “I don't believe in time.” This construction, this capital construction, like, is ordered by cap- time is ordered by capital. She just did a talk two days ago about this. And so I’m thinking about that belief in water, that belief in the regeneration of nature, the reclaiming, and also, like, us existing- our ancestors existing in that water, still. The residence time of that, which Christian Sharpe talks - writes about and talks about. So…

Ivy: I want to… kind of shift gears because I also want to be mindful of time… And I want to ask you about what you're writing, and if Toni has, has made her way into it at all?

Victoria: Absolutely… (laughs) Aw… You know what's so funny? I’ve… Yes… I am writing a collection, it’s a collection of poetry for now… I’m not sure about genres… but I'm writing a lot about, right now I'm writing about my mother in particular but thinking about Black mothers and daughters and mobility and immobility. So my mother was a formerly incarcerated Black woman living in the south, who lived with addiction and mental illness, and I… in thinking about… the most succinct way I can put it… I started writing and then writing myself into… writing myself not into a wall necessarily but into an open infinite space of- oh yes, I am writing about slavery. Like not having to, like, realize that, right? But I think for me in my writing process, coming to understand what I was… how I was writing along a legacy of what Toni has written about- was writing about constantly in view of Black mothers and daughters… I'm thinking a lot about Sula right now, too, which we can talk more explicitly about. But, something that… or one way that Toni has shown up in my work was I realized I've been focusing a lot on the figure of mother and the figure family as a monstrous cycle, but I recognize, too, and almost most importantly, I'm really thinking about Black children and the Black child, and it's something that Toni writes about explicitly, but also talked about so much. Like her… just in- in the nature of her work as a mother, and what being a mother for her meant. And so I've been thinking a lot about… like I write in my journal all the time bubbles like, “here are my major themes,” and then I've been circling around those, and then I've been like- I am writing about Black children so explicitly and not recognizing it until I'm like re- like going- returning to interviews with Toni and seeing how her children are coming up so much in her process, and recognizing that the Black child is so essential and central to her imagination and her like- what- the necessity of the writer to think about a future and also to think about the past, if that is making any sense? Right now, this is like exactly where I am right now.

She has this- she had an older interview with Oprah where she talks about, she asks this question and it’s like: “Does your face light up when you see your children?” And it’s so interesting because I think before she was talking about her writing process but- and it always comes back to that, and I, and I’ve been thinking… I don't have children, but I am writing toward my own self as a child constantly, in thinking about the immobility- the inevitable immobility of my own mother through her marriage and relationship to a cis Black man, through abuse and addiction, and through prison as a person who is cyclically incarcerated… and so I’ve been just mapping a lot of what themes I'm returning to and how they relate to Toni. And then last year I finally read Beloved, which I had been… I… I had been emotionally...

Ivy: Same.

Victoria: Taking my time.

Ivy: Same.

Victoria: Yeah (laughs)… I was like… a woman stepped out of the water I'm going to need some time, and I'm really happy I didn't have to read it in school because it wasn't a safe space for me to read that in school. Racist teachers instructing me on Beloved? Like, I'm really glad I… I'm glad a Spirit and an ancestor was like nope, you're going to read it in 2020… which may be worse. (laughs)

But anyway I talk about Beloved because I think… everything in my life has been clarified for me, reading beloved. And, anyway…

Ivy: Sorry, I’m just nodding so hard because I feel you. I feel you so hard. I started Beloved in college and was like… (laughs) absolutely not… (laughs) absolutely not. I'm not going to do it to myself. I’m not gonna do it. And then I came back to it last year. And yes… It illuminates so much of the legacy of Black motherhood in this country, because there is… actually I'm going to quote my mother. My mother once told me, because we- we have a very contentious relationship - I love her to death - I’m a Taurus she’s a Scorpio… so like, if you don't know the- the astrology of it, we’re on opposite ends of the emotional… logic… all the spectrums, we are polar opposite. And, the thing- one of the things that she told me when I was coming into adulthood is that, she wasn’t taught to love, she was taught to work, and she was taught to pray. And, that's such a remnant of the transatlantic slave trade. My mother's mother didn't know how many of her children were going to survive so there's no reason to fall in love with your children. My mother's mother's mother was a sharecropper, so like, that was the first generation of Black people in this country that had somewhat of a certainty that they were going to be able to keep their children with them. So like, we're only three generations into being able to be properly parented. If- if that - really! Like, before that, every single one of my forebears, like, they- they had the almost blessed assurance that one of their children was going to be sold away from them. So there's no reason to become attached to your children if you know that you're going to lose them, which brings us back to Beloved, right? Like, Baby Suggs, she talks about the four children that got sold away from her like it's just a fact of life. It would be like someone asking, how- like, when did- when did you lose your first tooth, or something? It's such an expectation of life as an enslaved person. So that when you get to the part where Sethe has to choose between her children's lives as quote-unquote “free people,” and killing them before they go back to what she just experienced, like you… like on one hand I cannot understand, like, taking my children's lives, right? I can't understand the - the terror, and the certainty that they would die in the way… Like I cannot fathom killing my children to save them from something else, because, like, the something else is bad enough to save them from death. Like, wrapping my mind around that, and knowing that my matrilineal, like, the lineage has been suffering that for ten to twelve generations, it makes complete sense why my grandmother taught my mother simply to work and pray, because that is the only certainty, that, like, that’s the only freedom that she was certain to have.

Victoria: I have so many thoughts in response to that. And also looking at the time, and I also recognize that I am very eager and long-winded… so I’m like… let me see what I can say to that…

Ivy: I think if we go maybe ten more minutes and then, like, open it up that would be pretty solid? Does that sound good to Shak, Isaac?

Victoria: Awesome.

Shak: That sounds great.

Victoria: Ok, whew, where to begin. Yeah, I am… So, I mean, again I know… we talk all the time about- about this but I, I’ve been thinking a lot about… I’m always thinking about violence, and thinking about violence- I mean one we are surrounded- I'm in Washington DC so… (laughs) and, I am- I am always thinking about it personally psychically and intellectually, and thinking about how violence shows up in Morrison's work as a generosity, also as maybe an only- the only- the only choice to make that is possibly generous. I’m- I’m thinking about a particular quote in “The Source of Self-Regard,” where Toni, and I'll just read it, and Toni Morrison is saying: “I’ve been told that there are two human responses to the perception of chaos: naming and violence.” And then she- she goes on to talk about chaos that is unknown, and what naming can accomplish for that. And then she- she goes on to say: “There is however a third response to chaos which I have not heard about, which is stillness. Such stillness can be passivity and dumbfoundedness. It can be paralytic fear, but it can also be art.” And I think about how in all of her writing, she is offering an expanded grammar to name chaos, and giving- giving us readers a path to kind of see what the naming, and what the violence, and what the stillness looks like, or must look like, for the characters. I’m think- and we’ve been talking- we’ve brought up Sula, and Beloved, so thinking about both of those books, and in both of those books, Black women who killed their children, and chose to name, and chose acts of violence, and also were still, in all of that chaos, right, but like the- the loving act of… the loving act in both of the books, in killing the baby, in killing the son, who was the addict who had come back from war in Sula… And, you know, going back to another thinker who Ivy and I have been talking about a lot, Joy James, who writes- who is a political theorist and writes about violence as well, and how- one of the quotes that Dr. Joy James has mentioned in a talk is just: “Violence is the only thing that matters, essentially for thought.” And a lot of the times when, in her talks and in her writing she's analyzing violence and who- who can- who owns violence who controls violence, in order to maintain the order in the conditions of our lives? And I think Toni’s choices for Black women, Black mothers, Black daughters, characters, in navigating the chaos of this world, to choose and enact moments of violence, and to demand us, the readers, to to read into that something beyond what we've been told what violence should be and is- because violence orders all of our lives, or- and it allows for the beginning and end of all of our lives.

Yeah, and this is very central to to my own work with writing about my mother, and thinking about Black women who… just, the- the legibility of Black women and their choices navigating violence and also becoming and owning the reins of violence in order to try to have some mobility, some possible future… or safety for their beloveds, you know?

Ivy: Yeah, absolutely. What strikes me about what you said, is that violence defines our lives, and I think that one of the… one of the… one of the responses to the past year or so has been an expansion of dialogue, particularly on like Twitter, and whatnot, about violence. And, one of the things that I’m… I, I- hate to say hopeful… because hopeful feels very… it just feels fleeting to me… But what I do feel heartened by is people's expansions of what they understand to be violence, and the…

Yes, the just… I'm trying to say it without saying it so harshly… Nearly everything that we experience is dictated by violence domestically or internationally. I think that one of the things that makes Western, or Western people of color, oppressed peoples in the West, however you want to term it… so uncomfortable, is once you realize that, so, like- everybody’s like fuck12 the police are bad, right? But that's like the first layer of the thing, right? It’s like, yes the police are bad, but guess who else is the police? The military…

Victoria: Go ahead say that.

Ivy: (laughs) The military is the global police. So, if the police are bad here, then what is the military- like where is the military bad? Everywhere. Like, once you piece that together for yourself, it's very difficult to stay in the west, and I think, so in “The Source of Self-Regard,” Toni has an essay called “War Talk,” and she's basically saying that there is no way that you can sugarcoat what war is, and by sugarcoating what war is, that’s, like, one of the main ways that the state justifies violence back home. So it's like, “Ok, well we have to protect y’all from communism,” or, “we have to protect y’all from socialist regimes,” or, “we have to… we have to protect the African continent from China,” or we have- like, all of these taglines make it easier for them to say that they shot someone in the back for a reason, or that you don't have a right to an education that is equitable in this country, or you don’t… you don't have a right to food or water or utilities or heat in the winter. You don't have a right to housing… It's so much easier to say that after you've already dehumanized the rest of the world. And I think Toni, Toni does a great job of making sure that you know what violence looks like here, so you can know what violence looks like everywhere.

And I have nothing else to add (laughs) Feel like I’ve been chatting…

Victoria: I’d love to know what everyone else is thinking. (laughs)

Ivy: Affirmative.

Shak: Yeah, feel free to just hop in y’all, we’ll open, open the discussion…

Well one- one thing that I've been thinking about, and, you know, full disclosure I'm not like super well-read on Toni’s work. I’ve read Beloved, like I mentioned in the chat, back in high school, which was an interesting experience, and I've read a lot of her interviews, but.. and I- to go back to, like, an earlier point, the cantankerousness of her interviews are just like…ugh… just brings me a lot of life anytime I read or watch them. But, something that I wanted to pose to y'all which I think is really interesting about Toni Morrison's work is this, like, historical imagination, and rooting the ideas of what could be in what has happened, and I'm just curious if that's something that, you know, y'all have also picked up on or if you have any thoughts on kind of that strain in her work?

Ivy: Most definitely.

Victoria: Yeah! I-

Ivy: No you got it, go ahead.

Victoria: No you go ahead… (laughs) okay. We’re being too generous! No I, definitely… I think it is… I feel like Toni maybe has… had said that it is… it is a constant thing that she's working through in her work anyway. There's this incredible quote where she’s talking about… and maybe I had already said this 5 minutes ago, but, she was talking about how, she doesn't know much about the future but the past is inviting… which… mm… damn. And then, you know, I'm thinking a lot again about, about time, and the way’s we’ve been told to… or conditioned to believe about how time operates. But, thinking about historical imagination, going back to even thinking about evidence, and also just, you know, how- your question and what you’re thinking about makes me think about how dangerous her work is, like she is in, in every single book, thinking through historical- so going back to Sula which is interesting so, it’s taking place, like, this idea that slavery existed in Ohio in and of itself is a historical imagination that she’s turning to force us to think a certain way about the bottom, but also just about the nation, and she does that… She, she did that throughout her entire career, and I think about how she would write and talk about too, the truth telling she was doing and just how how, how it was necessarily dangerous to do it, even in imagining what could be. So, that’s kind of my immediate thing. She was so aware that she was sharpening a knife every time she wrote. And that like… and also knowing that even before she was a writer, as an editor and she was editing work that was doing that too. And so that's kind of what… something that I'm thinking about, I’m thinking- and it goes back to what you were saying earlier Ivy, just about… how political she is but it's like, she… so many of- so many of her works are, even beyond like the evidence of a monument like, oh this space, this… this is the space where ships docked. She's also like, and here is a map to how to remember this and then also be the flood. Like that's all of her work, and it's a weapon, like her work is… is a weapon. I'm so excited about it! What do you think Ivy?

Ivy: I think about the use of the term speculative fiction a lot, because speculative fiction is thinking about a world that doesn't necessarily exist, and I think that Toni often writes from a place that- like I said, like, evidence might say something to the contrary, but it's truth nonetheless. And… I think… I don’t know I… I'm just in awe of the craft of it all, because she can start with a newspaper clipping and turn it into something so much… so rich… it's a… it's a site in and of itself, right? So it becomes a physical place, and that's transformative, like learning how to make… reading a place that you know but don't know, like that's a… that's a transformation in and of itself. I don’t know I, I just think that… she's unbelievable, and I'm so glad to have lived during the time of Toni Morrison. Like I know, I know that… that… the work is eternal, for sure, but that there is something to be said about being able to read these novels, and to have (laughs) breathed the same air, (laughs) and lived on the same planet at the same time… like there's something special to me about that. Yeah…

Question from the audience: Hey y’all, I have a thought. It's only like tangentially about Toni Morrison. But Vic, this gets to your point earlier about water and memory, and I'm thinking a lot right now about water, sort of as a source of trauma, and particularly for reasons why, like, I don't swim and a lot of black people don’t swim… And I’m thinking about it a lot, because I just moved to LA like five- six months ago, and I'm like, oh, maybe I should like, learn how to swim because there’s a beach. I don’t know, these thoughts, they’re, they’re all sort of like scatterbrained thoughts, so you may have to help me pull them together. But I just finished reading Undrowned by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, which I don’t- I- Vic you- I think you- yeah, I think you follow me but I don’t know if anyone else does, and I was, like, stanning about it on instagram and I think everyone should read it. But it- to me, it talks a lot about capitalism and sort of the- the trauma that we put on these, like, underwater animals, and then also preparing us for the inevitable like, climate crisis that we're facing with water. And then similarly there is a novel or a Novella called The Deep by Rivers Solomon, and it is about (laughs) mermaids essentially, that have become that way because they were either cast off of slaveships, or they jumped off, or for- for whatever reasons, and they formed, like, a whole society underwater. And because of the trauma of the transatlantic slave trade, one of the merpeople has to hold all that, like, memory, only one person can, like, hold all that memory and hold all that trauma. And what happens when she decides to say like, fuck this, and she just leaves, and she gives all of the community that memory back.

And so I’m like- it’s, it’s sort of pushing me to read Beloved, I've never read it. Because the movie as a child was a whole lot (laughs) it was a lot for ya boi! But I'm thinking, like, I want to sort of re-read all of these things together and find some way to, like, synthesize my thoughts better. But that’s just, that’s sort of what came up, and I’m gonna have to listen to- I googled the quote- “The Site of Memory” I think is the- the talk that you quoted from. so I'mma have to look that up I hadn’t heard of it. Thank you.

Ivy: That book sounds fire!

Audience Member: It- (laughs) so! The ending was really, really frustrating, but you should read it!

Ivy: Ah- hate when that happens! But, thank you, thank you for the… thank for the heads up but definitely want to read it for sure.

Audience Member: Yeah, I would love to know what you think.

Victoria: I am really really grateful, simply for you naming all of these things to read because it feels- and the links in from this conversation to reading those things, and it's so funny because River Solomon is… and of all of their books are on my list. So, yeah, I feel- something I've been saying lately because I think living in a pandemic hasn't changed the way I am able to communicate. I’ve been saying, like, I feel the thought I want to describe to you, and I also know I can message so many people who are on a call after, but I think something that is coming up for me, and that I'm really grateful that you brought up, is the traumatic relationship that Black people specifically have to water. And something that I- Ivy and I were mentioning residence time, but just, I think, it is nice to define it for folks you haven't heard of the term, but, residence time is the duration of persistence of a substance in an absorbed, suspended, or dissolved state. So when Christina Sharpe talks about residence time in In The Wake, she's really mapping and talking about Africans in the Atlantic slave trade who still are existing with- all Black people really but, like, the Middle Passage as something that is beyond our own Western conception of time as they are not- no longer with us in the past but, knowing the lifespan of hydrogen and other, like, atoms in general, like, in the water… like, we - defining that we from this definition - are in the water. And so, also just you naming Black people's relationships to- to water in general, and also nature again when we were talk- talking about flooding, and the violences that come from that, the abandonment, the dispossession, and also the memory that lives inside the water. And really- and really I'm really interested in reading this… in reading The Deep, because it seems to me like, that is thinking- that book is thinking through that specifically, and through the terror of memory, which I think is something that… there is a terror in remembering, while also there is a terror in not knowing… so what is… what is safety? (laughs) What is safety for the Black. Period - no question mark (laughs) but um…

Anyway, that’s something I’m thinking about, and would love to read, and also have further conversations about too.

Ivy: I’m going to make a statement real quick, and y'all can feel free to push back on this but… I think Toni might be the first Afropessimist… like she might be the Afropessimist OG. Like, she's putting words to the nonhuman yet subjected to human standards, like, dichotomy that all Black people are subject to, because anti Blackness is global. Yeah, I think… Yeah. I don't know what else there is to say other than… I think Toni is the forebear to Afropessimism. And, I want to thank her and I also wish that I could unknow the things I know… thank you for your time.

Shak: Floor… floor is still open for thoughts, questions, observations, resources, whatever y'all might want to share- or share with the group. We still got some time.

Audience Member 2: Peace y’all. Thank y’all so much for speaking, it was lovely to hear from y’all. I have so many thoughts running through my head, but I just wanted to say this is so creepy… or, the ancestors are really moving funnily, because I was just reading about Oshun. And it's weird, in thinking so oddly about water and fertility and motherhood, that you guys wrapped it… y’all wrapped it up, in a really interesting way that, I don’t know how to feel about it, and I don't know where I’m- what I’m lead to read next. So I just want to thank y’all.

Ivy: No, thank you for bringing up Oshun. I think that… I feel like the Orisha tradition in general is something that I wish more people would connect to, particularly, African American writing. Because, like, the 60s had such an influx of Afrocentric thought and Afrocentric writing, but it didn't always come out explicitly, and I think that's a beautiful thing. And I think that one of the things that has pushed me over the ledge into being pan-African is (laughs) like, truly accepting the fact that we all have common ancestors on the other side of the Atlantic, and that, like, just as much if not- yeah just like, just as much same but different horrors occurred on either side of the Atlantic. That, like, that is not the reason why we're bridged, though, like, the bridge is the cosmology, the theology, the- like, what our origin stories are, still belong to the continent. And, yeah, I think Toni was definitely being guided by (laughs) I swear she’s got a lot of Shango in her. She’s a, she’s a hell of a fighter.

Victoria: I just appreciate you naming also, just that, you didn't say spooky, but, like, there's something- so, at the beginning… season 4 of the pandemic, which may be a different season for all of us, but, season 4, the beginning of season 5, I was creating a lot of reading lists, like, on a Google Doc - “this is what I’m gonna read, link link link link.” And I was recently talking to a very, very dear friend of mine, just about reading, and, so this is just a quick comment about that but- I stopped creating, like, a list for myself in that way because… it just… it- it started to feel… it started to not only feel like labor, but it just didn’t… it just I mean… and again we’re in a pandemic, so… just have to keep bringing that up to remember… but… lately, I have been having a similar experience just in what I'm reading and then, also just finding myself, and this could just be because my desires to keep trying to find what is- what is even knowable about myself and about Blackness while I'm here and alive, has continually lead me to a different type of relationship to reading and to study and to knowing. So I… I just… what you said resonates with me, and I also, like, see and affirm that too, like… I also think, you know, a lot of times when what you want and desire you’re looking for, the universe is putting it to you, but it also is a little disorienting… also because the process of reading is just so emotional. And what… what- what is being read, too, and the weight of it, and, and… if it’s even containable. So anyway, I just wanted to name that.

Ivy: I would be interested in… creating more of- not… I don’t want to call it a book club… just like a discussion group for books (laughs) so a book club. And I think Imaginary School would be an excellent place to do so, so if y'all are interested in that, that's something that we can definitely facilitate.

Shak: Yeah, this space really is available to be whatever the community needs it to be. So if folks want to read and hop in any of our voice chats at any point like… y'all can do that, y’all don’t need myself or Isaac here to facilitate. Like, it’s- it's open- open space for discussion at any point, so, yeah. That’s- that is something that we can absolutely put together and promote.

Aaron: Sorry (laughs) First off, I just wanted to echo what folks have said in terms of just being very grateful for this space, and for the curation of the conversation, and naming a lot of things that need to be named and aren’t often in our daily, like, daily lives. I just wanted to uplift though… I put it in the chat, but I'm currently reading the fifth season in Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin, and I just wanted to, like, echo what you had said Ivy on speculative fiction and sci-fi… you didn’t mention sci-fi, but like also like, other forms of fiction that give us an opportunity to like, to deal with things that aren’t, aren’t named… and like, the fact that we exist here even though it’s… feels impossible for that to be, like, the case, while also trying to think about something that… could happen beyond that, and, for me like, that series is helping me to like, deal with a lot of the realities that you all named, in a container that like, I can kind of like, work through, these like, traumatic moments that our ancestors have had to deal with… we’re currently dealing with… and the fact that they're not… is not going to end any time soon, especially when you think about the crisis that the earth is presently in, like you named, and, it’s reckoning season, regardless of whether or not we want to, like, name it as that… and so many of our writers, so many Black women writers and femmes, like, have named that over generations, and are writing in like conversation with one another in and outside of genres, which is awesome, like, what is that and who- who designed… designed that category for literature. So, I just, yeah, once again, thank you all, and excited to continue to build with you all in this space.

Ivy: Thank you Aaron, that was…

Victoria: Thanks, babe! (laughs) He’s sitting across from me.

Ivy: Really appreciate it man, I really appreciate it.

I agree though, yeah. I think that… I think that one of the- so, I- I used to be a slightly big Marvel stan… and Stan Lee… like he- the whole purpose of comics were to give kids the opportunity to feel strong by conduit. Like (laughs) like… and that's what fiction does for me in a lot of ways. I’m able to navigate real life because I know that, although it’s real life, like, it’s as… like, that - the how real it feels, how surreal it can feel, varies day to day, depending on… whether it be brain chemistry, or what CNN has decided is the headline, or whatever. So yeah, I feel you heavily…

Shak: Yeah, I'm such a big…

Dana: Good afternoon everyone!

Shak: Oh, go ahead!

Dana: Oh, Shakeil, I just wanted to say thank you. This is Dana, and just, as a parent, having you all reframe, sort of what… the gravity of parenting… This year was the first time I had to explain to my children about slavery. Black History Month kicked it off with… we had talked about things before, but, when it was time for me to explain, I- you know, I used the words. What are slaves? Well, this is the transatlantic slave trade, so like, now, because of Pokémon. And, literally, every single entertainment, sort of, genre we find is about empire and power, in some way shape or form. So talking to my children was about the transatlantic slave trade, I wasn't offering them a new framework, I was giving the language about a reality they had observed in entertainment. They were like, “Oh, yeah, I understand that. Like having a Pokémon. We’re gonna release our Pokémon…”

Ivy: Wow (laughs)

Dana: The bravery in language, is something… you're welcome (laughs)

The bravery… and just think about Pikachu’s relationship, just, sit with it.

The bravery in language that Morrison has always demonstrated….

Think about Pikachu’s comfort in his relationship… continue, um, go back *coughs (laughs)

…is something that empowers me as a parent, but I’ve also had to consider the legacy and the spirit. And I think, you know, you talking about Oshun- and talking about, I think, all of the different traditions we have access to now… my question around that is that generationally, what do you think Toni Morrison means to contemporary youth, versus, I guess I’m a gen-x-er… and so in my coming up, Morrison was the, you know, not just only the preeminent, but one of the only… like it was Morrison and Walker. And, you know, Butler came out in high school for me, but, those were our three. And, you know, you were welcome to… I’m from Philly so you’re welcome to Giovanni, you’re welcome to Sonia, but you don’t have the plethora of writers that you all enjoy. What do you think her work means to this generation, in contrast to what it might mean to mine.

Ivy: Yeah, I think we were, like when we were talking about Toni particularly as an editor, that I think that her work is being more recognized for the impact that she had on bringing so many Black writers to us, first and foremost. And, the second thing, is that, I’ll say- I can… I can not speak for my generation but I can speak for my friends, and I do believe (laughs) that, as far as writers go, she is more or less the… the blueprint for storytelling. I feel like in a lot of ways, the command that she has over the English language, the staunchly, “I am speaking to Black people only, exclusively, unabashedly, and I'm not going to explain a goddamn thing…” is something that (laughs) my generation is very keen to carry forward. I think, yeah, I mean, she's not becoming cannon, she is canon. But, like, she’s… she- she problematizes what people think of as American literature in a way that has definitely expanded what… what authors we see inside our classrooms now. Just like, thinking, yeah like…

I think that, maybe for- for gen-X, it was like… we don't know if we're going to get another Morrison, and we still don't know if we're going to get another Morrison, but at the same time, because there were only a handful of people to choose from, like, it didn't matter but now like (laughs) Toni’s ushered in so many people that have changed the way that I look at writing, that, I don't know I just feel like… if Rushmore wasn't a… a terrible, like, piece of… like… art… I would say that she’s definitely on, you know, the Rushmore, the pinnacle of- of American Writers. And I think they also her, her… her legend has grown so much, particularly with just the, like, the personal relationships that all of these writers had to each other. So, her relationship with Nikki Giovanni, her relationship with Angela Davis, her relationship with Lucille Clifton… and being able to, like, dive into their archives and like… like… see all of the- the web of connection between them, has made… art-making and, like, creative networks / creative community that much more important to our generation, I think. And I think is something that we’ve had to reclaim, for sure. I don't think that… I don't think that folks maybe like born in the late-70s early-80s… like, there was like, almost like a divergence away from collectivism, and there’s, like, plenty of reasons for that historically, but I think that slowly but surely, were coming back to artistic community as a necessity of Black art, and that’s because of Toni.

Victoria: I want to add to that-

Nafiz: Can I just jump in-

Victoria: Oh yes, Nafiz, go ahead.

Nafiz: No, but Vic, go- you first. Go ahead.

Victoria: It’s ok… well, ok, I’ll go really quickly. There are two quotes, and I’m also looking at the time… and I might also just send them to you too, Dana. And I’m thinking about… maybe this is a little bit more general- general… but I'm thinking about… so, I’m reading Playing in the Dark, also thinking about how reading is political, and, I'm also thinking about joining a quote from Playing in the Dark with a quote from Joy James, because Joy James talks about children. So I wanted to just offer these. One is, Joy James says: “When you have proximity to children, and you have responsibilities to them, then you really understand what terror is, because you realize you cannot protect them. And that on one level is so humiliating.” And then she goes on to say, “You can never meet the needs of children. We will always fail. But I think that brings sanity to our lives, and humility.” And then the quote extends.

But, I'm thinking about that, and I'm thinking about that in relationship to what Toni is writing about the difference between writing and reading. And she- she says it’s not distinct, particularly for the writer. But then she says: “Writing and reading require being alert and ready for unaccountable beauty. For the intricateness, or simple elegance of the writer's imagination. For the world and that imagination evokes. Both require being mindful of the places where that imagination sabotages itself, locks its own gates, pollutes its vision. Writing and reading mean being aware of the writer’s notions of risk and safety. The serene achievement of, or sweaty fight for, meaning and responsibility.” Those were a lot of quotes… I can add them to the chat.

I'm thinking a lot about how, when someone dies, how they are entombed. And I go back to how Toni rebuked genius and yet was buried by a lot of writing about her being genius, and how… Toni writes about defending writers as they live… and I’m thinking about how to defend writers when they die, and how the state will commodify everything, and commodify black people, and how this generation that has so many different… there's more representation, yes, but I'm also thinking about the representation of a certain ideology, and how that must be defended. And how… I'm really interested in wanting to teach children a certain specific type of literacy, like, even as they're being fed certain ways to read, if that's making sense. Anyway, I know I offered a bunch of quotes, but that's where my mind went, to all of those places.

Nafiz: You better (laughs)

I just want to thank you all for being here, and again, you know, setting this beautiful stage for all of us to be a part of this conversation. I’m just reminded of ancestor, you know, Toni’s talk, eh, well, quote, and I’m paraphrasing, about how: in times like these, in tumultuous times, you know, it is- it is artists like us who are the record keepers, who are, you know, pressed with that urgency of action. And that's when we come alive. So, just because you, and… you Vic & Ivy are such, you know, prolific writers, and brilliant minds and spirits… I mean, I just would like to… selfishly though (laughs) you know… about also… the endeavors that are coming up for you all, you know. How both of you have been, you know, thinking about Toni, and, you know, bringing Toni into the work and into your lives. And also how we as a community, and I, you know, can also support you all with next steps, next projects, is what I’m also curious about… how she is carrying you further.

Ivy: Vic you want to go?

Victoria: I love you, Nafiz! I love so many people on this call. My immediate response to that, is… earlier this morning- Oh! Camara, you’re on the call too! Earlier this morning Camara actually sent a tweet to me, which is a picture from… I’m trying to find it now… Aracelis Girmay’s like, book, the introduction to How to Carry Water, and it's a letter in response to Toni’s edits to Lucille Clifton’s book… So it’s- Lucille Clifton is like, “I don't agree… I agree… I don't agree… I don't agree… This bears repeating…” And I'm thinking about, just, how beautiful it is, the archive of like, writers in conversation and also revision. And I think if there's anything I know I- I would need in the future are readers, of drafts that have been written but also are written but, you know… emotionally written, and not literally on a word doc. So that’s more of a future project… But I’m thinking about… about that and about how I look forward to being in conversation with so many people, particularly who are on this call, but just other artists in general, to kind of… to have the- this… these moments of… here is this work and us working together. So, that is a very specific, but also something that… in seeing this I smile, because I was like, and this is what I desire and want in my relationships, because the work is living and alive, and is also communal and collective, so…

Nafiz: Beautiful answer, thank you. And I love you too. Ivy! What about you?

Ivy: Nafiz!

Nafiz: Hey!

Ivy: You already, you’ve specifically already opened your life to me as a friend and a sort-of mentor… the things that I have coming up, I have an album that is coming out later this year. I believe that it is my best work, and I am slowly but surely getting to the root of it all… And, I'm also currently working on an application to a couple of different grants for a different project. The working title is “Exploitation Index: Affirmations for the Nonhuman.” And, it’s hopefully going to be a multimedia work, with, like, exhibition design and such. And yes, Shak, you know that I'm already going to hit you up for it. (laughs) And you too, Nafiz, once I get the, like, the complete project, like, conceptualized. But more or less, the thing that I need is people to build real community with. I think that for the years after graduating from college, finding people whose primary interest in connecting is less social, more politically minded, and or more, like, studying minded, has been, like, good and bad. Mostly because, like, we're social beings, right? Like, I- I love socializing. I love being in community with people. But, I also, like I would love for us to do some, some impactful work. And as artists, I think, the expectation for artists in the past was so much more concrete because the stakes were higher, to be completely honest. A lot of people weren’t able to afford to, like, leave the places that were most susceptible to violence, or leave the places that are food desserts, or like, what have you. And, because of the changes in class of Black people, particularly, like, the creation of a… a celebrity class has created this, like, distance between artist and the people… “and the people” (laughs) you know what I mean, like, like these are just people that listen to my music, like, I am no different than anyone. I am struggling through the same set of contradictions as everyone else, and one of the things that helps keep me sane is being able to talk to people without the need to feel, like, proximity to celebrity… it's like, the most… it’s… it’s the only thing keeping me here (laughs) and making music. So yeah, just like, having… being able to be in- in conversation and in community with people without feeling… separated or, like, ostra… like… it’s like this weird, like… double… it's not ostracization, right? Like I'm not being ostracized from the community in the sense that, like, I don't belong here… but at the same time… it's like… because like, there's a certain follower count, or a certain number of people streaming my music… I'm being set, like… I'm being forced to be separated from people in a way that's very, very unnerving for me… so like… literal community is very important to me. People, like, who know me IRL, like, having access to me, and like consistently, is something that is… keeps me… keeps me going, in more ways than one.

Nafiz: Thank you so much, thank you.

Shak: Well I kind of think that's an amazing note to conclude on. I want to leave room for if anyone else has any closing thoughts or questions… feel free to hop in?

Cool! Well if not… Thank you Ivy! Thank you Victoria, so much, for coming here and sharing all of these amazing thoughts with us, and answering questions, and just being awesome members of this community. Major shout out to everyone who was able to come through, and share their thoughts, and also just be a part of this community. We hope you stick around and keep contributing and sharing things with each other. And really just like… cannot express how appreciative I am of everyone coming through and spending time with us on this Saturday afternoon. So… mad love.

We have a chat going with, you know, people are dropping links and sharing thoughts, and that is… that’ll be… I’m going to leave that up, that'll be running for the rest of the month. We still are, like I- like I mentioned before, looking to sponsor two projects. So, if anyone here is interested in making something, or knows someone who might be interested in making something, I think you can just drop it- drop your ideas in the Toni Morrison discussion channel, and we’ll kind of review those as they come in. The idea is that Ivy and Vic will get to pick one project, and the community will vote on another project to sponsor. So, just want to put that out there.

And then lastly, I'm going to create a channel on our page that's going to collect all the quotes, tweets, books… everything that’s been mentioned today. In addition, we have a full transcript of this discussion which I will probably edit and put together… Vic and Ivy, I’ll probably check in with y'all afterwards to figure out how we want to approach that… but probably put that up on the website, put that up on the… so there’s kind of a historical record of this conversation, because I think there was… a lot of bars that were exchanged. So… that’s- that’s… that's all I've got. I'm going to leave it open for anyone else to… to say what's up or sign off and… and thanks…

Ivy: No I just want to say I love you, and I love Vic, and I love Nafiz, and I love Isaac, and I love Isa, and I love Camara, and I love… A-M-O, I don’t know, you’re name is Amo, and I love Jasmine Gilbert, and I love Otio. And Isa!

Shak: And, yes!

Ivy: Thank you for bearing witness to a conversation that… very likely probably would have happened between me and Victoria anyway (laughs) but, you know

Victoria: Yeah, it would’ve happened (laughs)

Ivy: But thank you for being here to witness.

Victoria: I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful for you. I’m so grateful for Shak and Isaac for curating this space, this space that is… is just such a wealth of… it's very generous. And it is… I am so excited to be learning and becoming in this space, and then also in the future… I’m so grateful to be in an intellectual space and to tell people in real time that I love them. I think that that is a fucking gift, so I'm very, very grateful for that, and I don’t take that for granted, so… Heart emoji!

Ivy: Alright, bye you beautiful beings.

Shak: Thanks everyone!

Ivy: Have a great evening!

Shak: Love you, thanks for everything, we’ll see you in the chat.

Ivy: Peace.

Toni Morrison and Imagination