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Musicians, writers at Luminato raise their voices to celebrate Toni Morrison and Black women writers

Musicians, writers at Luminato raise their voices to celebrate Toni Morrison and Black women writers

Musicians, writers at Luminato raise their voices to celebrate Toni Morrison and Black women writers

Before COVID-19 restrictions eclipsed all large, public memorializing of our dead — even the monumental public figures who nurtured us and made us better — one of Canada’s foremost literary critics had been gestating an idea of ​​how to celebrate the extraordinary life work of Toni Morrison , the incomparable African American author who passed in 2019.

The idea survived the pandemic and this weekend Donna Bailey Nurse and a stellar lineup of Morrison’s literary disciples will honor Morrison’s legacy with a Luminato offering at the Winter Garden Theater on Yonge Street.

Like kids at a hockey game, mouths agape at some mind-blowing dipsy-doodle of a goal from Connor McDavid, writers of every hue and calling profession an awe of the genius of the Nobel laureate Morrison, author of 11 books.

“Morrison has no equal,” said Myriam Chancy, the Haitian Canadian author whose novels take readers on Morrison-like flights. She will expand her thoughts at Friday night’s chit-chat.

In a pre-event tribute, Chancy (“What Storm, What Thunder”) speaks of Morrison’s “expertise in the modeling of a language that could contain and reveal life, where the sculpting of a sentence revealed a teeming universe.”

Yes, we mortals cobble together sentences; the greats sculpt.

When writers write about novelist Morrison it is with a reverence that excavates profundity. There is a compulsion to rise to the Nobel Prize for Literature winner’s unachievable heights; and an expectation to fall short of its grasp.

Bailey Nurse, the critic, won’t soon forget interviewing the legend in 1998 in lower Manhattan.

“I felt like I knew nothing. She knew so much.”

She has interviewed dozens of Black women writers around the world and virtually every one of them alluded to Morrison’s imprint on their work. “Put plainly, she is our griot.”

That’s why she so wanted to hold a Morrison tribute. And Naomi Campbell, Luminato’s artistic director, immediately grasped the significance and the show was born.

Imagine a night, two nights in succession, when eight of Canada’s star authors, all Black and female, gather at the enchanting Winter Garden to swap tales, sing a few tunes, watch the audience dance in their seats as they recall the epic impact of Morrison’s work and how her unspoken mentorship has propelled a generation, especially Black women, into award-winning literary circles.

In addition to deep literary ruminations by people with super active imaginations, the show adds Nicky Lawrence (fresh from her one-woman show “Ugly Black Woman”) as singing host. She’ll bring the Nina Simone-Ella Fitzgerald vibe to the conversation. Then composer/musician Orin Isaacs and his band are expected to spice up the live mix and deliver an intoxicating cocktail.

Luminato hasn’t done the “literary component for a while so this seemed like a great opportunity,” Campbell said in an interview. “This is a high status event in a beautiful space with some amazing talent. It brings the festival into the multidisciplinary world where we are adding music, so it’s not a panel about books; it’s much, much more.”

A large part of the “more” is the inclusion of often muted voices: Black women authors who are killing it by producing great literary works. “For me, it’s about Black women voices, which are an essential part of the conversation right now … and this is beautiful,” said Campbell.

Friday night features Rebecca Fisseha (“Daughters of Silence”) and her African diaspora aesthetic; Zalika Reid-Benta and her popular award-winning first collection short fiction, “Frying Plantain”; Francesca Ekwuyasi (“Butter Honey Pig Bread”) landed on the 2020 Giller Prize long list and was a finalist for the Governor General’s literary prize; and Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, Giller 2021 shortlisted for “The Son of the House” and top prize in Nigeria for literature. She might just expound on what it means for a Black author to “write for a white gaze.”

Saturday night’s lineup is headlined by a video appearance from Esi Edugyan, two-time winner of the Giller, Canada’s top literary prize; Chance will be there in person. Then there’s Aminatta Forna, whose collection of essays (“The Window Seat”) Bailey Nurse describes as “incredible. She writes about things I don’t even think about.” “Window Seat” is a metaphor for the African diaspora — a scattered people, mostly by forced migration, evolved to be at ease with estrangement in homes always away from home.

And getting Dawnie Walton (“The Final Revival of Opal and Nev”) for the show was “a coup. Hers is a fresh, original voice and so unique,” ​​said Bailey Nurse.

“Beloved” is not just the title of Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book. It’s the title of the Luminato show that reflects a public’s regard for Morrison’s impact.

Luminato runs from June 9 to 16. Go to for tickets to this event or for more information.


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