The Book that Made Me a Reader
Martha Southgate on Toni Morrison
Martha Southgate is leading a workshop at the Center, Come Together-- Connection & Disconnection in Fiction, starting on September 29th. Click here for more information and to sign up to study with this amazing writer.
I was in college and had an
unexpected lull between things I had, had, had to read. Though I’d always been a voracious reader, I did very little reading for pleasure in college. No time. But anyway, I’d acquired a few hours somehow. There was this novel—quite short—that I’d been interested in. I lay on my narrow dorm bed, picked it up and began: “Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very pretty.” It went on in this Dick and Jane parody for a full paragraph. This paragraph was then repeated with no punctuation and then repeated without space breaks so that it became typographical gobbledegook: “Hereisthehouseitisgreenandwhiteithasareddooritisverypretty” “What the hell?” I thought. But I was hooked. And I stayed that way until I finished The Bluest Eye later that afternoon, having finished it in a fevered rush. When I was done, I gazed at the cover a while, rapt and sorrowful. As everyone knows, Toni Morrison has written many books since then, many of them more ambitious and complex. But for better or worse, none have ever blown me away quite like that one.
Martha Southgate is the author of four novels. Her newest, The Taste of Salt, was published in September 2011 and was named one of the best novels of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Globe. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Her essay “Writers Like Me,” published in the New York Times Book Review, appears in the anthology Best African-American Essays 2009. Previous non-fiction articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, O, Entertainment Weekly, and Essence. She is at work on a new novel.