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Beloved May 16, 2022

A Semester of Toni Morrison by Ian Williams

In the fall of 2009, I taught a fourth-year undergraduate course on Toni Morrison. I haven’t looked at my course materials in over a decade. Here’s what I found.

From the syllabus


Sep 8/10 
Sep 9: Final day to add or drop a course THE BLUEST EYE (1970) Beauty, race, self-hate 
Two crimes and their consequences 

Discussion questions from my teaching notes:

1. What can you do to make someone love you? That is, what can you do to the beloved?
a. Close read p. 206.

2. How can you make yourselves more lovable? That is, what can you do to yourself?

And here’s essay topic #4:

4. Morrison and cruelty. Is she unreasonably cruel to her characters? Is Morrison too graphic?

A note to myself as a fiction writer: Nobody names characters better than Morrison

The Breedloves, Soaphead, Sula, Chicken Little, Shadrack, Plum, Boy Boy, Ajax, Milkman, The Deads, Pilate, Guitar, Hagar, Corinthians, Beloved, Baby Suggs, Sethe, Denver, Sixo, Buglar, Schoolteacher, Stamp Paid. 

A list of fresh words and phrases:

  • Shadowboxed 
  • A hem of light under the door 
  • Macadam 
  • Headrest 
  • Issat so? 
  • Joo talkin to me? 
  • Fracas 
  • Sniveling 

And finally, here’s a comment on a student paper.

This is such a tender, metaphoric reading of Pecola’s situation: Pecola as dandelion. No one cares for their heads; folks just want the leaves, “their bodies,” as you put it. And then you show how Cholly’s rape only attends to her body. She has no voice. This metaphoric reading renders Pecola even more of a victim and makes the crime against her more brutal. 

She comes to distrust her own perception of dandelions as beautiful plants, and after a small embarrassment inside the candy store, now joins the rest of the world in believing that they are weeds. 

Lovely, sensitive reading.”

Check out Ian Williams’ latest book, Disorientation

Headshot of author Ian Williams
Photo of Ian Williams by Justin Morris

Ian Williams is the author of six books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. His latest book, Disorientation, considers the impact of racial encounters on ordinary people.

His novel, Reproduction, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was published in Canada, the US, the UK, and Italy. His poetry collection, Word Problems, converts the ethical and political issues of our time into math and grammar problems. It won the Raymond Souster Award. His previous collection, Personals, was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award. His short story collection, Not Anyone’s Anything, won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the best first collection of short fiction in Canada. His first book, You Know Who You Are, was a finalist for the ReLit Poetry Prize. He is a trustee for the Griffin Poetry Prize. 

Williams completed his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. After several years teaching poetry in the School of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Williams returned to the University of Toronto as a tenured professor of English. He was the 2014-2015 Canadian Writer-in-Residence for the University of Calgary’s Distinguished Writers Program. In 2022, he will be the Visiting Fellow at the American Library in Paris.  

To learn more about Toni Morrison and her legacy get your tickets for Beloved: A Celebration of Toni Morrison and Black Women Writers with Donna Bailey Nurse

Further Reading on Toni Morrison’s Impact