We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives. —Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize Lecture (1993)
Toni Morrison, one of our favorite authors to teach, passed away on August 5, 2019. She was 88. Morrison wrote nearly a dozen novels, a handful of children’s books, and several other works, including nonfiction, short fiction, and a libretto. High school and college syllabi often feature her work. In fact The Bluest Eye is on the list of books recommended by the Common Core. Despite that, her work is frequently challenged.
Indeed, Morrison is essential reading. But if you’ve never used her work in class or have only read her, teaching Toni Morrison can be a daunting undertaking. So to help you prepare for the challenge, we’ve gathered some of the best resources for teaching Toni Morrison and listed them below. Your students—and you—will be better for it.
If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. —Toni Morrison
Books, Resources, and Lesson Plans for Teaching Toni Morrison
Here are resources for teaching Toni Morrison’s books, including several for The Bluest Eye and Beloved, the books most frequently taught at the high school level.
The New York Times’ list of Morrison’s essential books
Though, we argue, they are all essential.
Language Matters II: Reading and Teaching Toni Morrison
Run by the Project on the History of Black Writing at the University of Kansas, this site provides information and other contextual resources for most of Morrison’s novels and will help you discuss Morrison’s work with your class.
“This is not a story to pass on.”
A very helpful lesson plan for Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, Beloved, courtesy of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. Get the lesson here: http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/1999/1/99.01.03.x.html#a
Exposing the Master Narrative
Teaching The Bluest Eye? This guide from Feminist Teacher will prove incredibly useful. She also has a guide for Beloved.
The Bluest Eye study guide
Morrison’s first novel was adapted into a play, written by Lydia Diamond. This study guide will help you tackle either version of this powerful story.
PBS’s great teaching guide for Beloved.
Not sure you have time to cover a Morrison novel? Read Morrison’s only published short story, which was originally featured in Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women.
As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think. —Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison Lectures and Talks
One of the best ways to familiarize students with Toni Morrison is to have them listen to her. There are many interviews and talks available on the Internet, including her 30-minute Nobel Prize lecture.
In this interview, Morrison discusses how the idea of what the 1950s were inspired her novel Home. Her observations have particular relevance today.
In this clip Toni Morrison covers a range of topics with activist Angela Davis, courtesy of the New York Public Library.
If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it. —Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
Have you taught Toni Morrison in your classroom? Come and share your tips and strategies in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, women of color who belong on your reading list.