An Author Shut Down My Senior Thesis (Thankfully, No One Cares)

broyardBack in the day, I wrote my senior thesis on Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, which was about a black guy in the 1940s who passed as a white, Jewish guy.  To be honest, that ish was so long ago, I don’t remember much beyond the thesis of my thesis.  I do, however, remember this: one chapter was about the influence of the writer Anatole Broyard (pictured left) on the novel’s protagonist, Coleman Silk.  There were several similarities, but the big ones were that both men were Creole (think Beyonce), academic, and “passed” as white, meaning they were black but pretended to be white.  As part of my research, I corresponded with Broyard’s daughter, Bliss, about her Dad’s life.  She gave me some tidbits, and was in the midst of working on a memoir about her Dad, who she had no idea was black until the end of his life (yes, that means, she had no idea SHE was black either).

Ok so, fast forward 6 years, and some things happened.  First, Philip Roth published An Open Letter to Wikipedia in the New Yorker.  He was mad that Wikipedia wouldn’t change the statement that his novel was “allegedly inspired by the life of Anatole Broyard” despite his requests that they do so.  Wikipedia, he claims, said that he, as the author, was not a credible source. Roth, who is notoriously press-shy btw, then published a letter trying to seize control over the interpretation of his novel.  He said that Coleman Silk was NOT based on Broyard and, in addition to giving a bunch spoilers, he argued that he alone was enough to counter the assertion. Ok.

Somewhere between 2006 and now, I became Facebook friends Bliss Broyard after meeting her at a signing for her memoir, One Drop.  I posted Roth’s article on her timeline (although it was almost more for her fans, since I assumed she had seen it).  The other day, she wrote a Facebook post that began “someone posted on my timeline this Open Letter from Philip Roth…”  Of course I was like, “oh s**t.”  Then I read her post.  On Facebook, she shared extensive thoughts on Roth’s letter, primarily arguing 1) that it’s actually not so crazy that people made comparisons between her Dad and the protagonist and 2) an author can’t dictate the conclusions other people draw about his characters.

I agree with both arguments, and not because I’m personally invested in the outcome of this debate—I mean, let’s face it, no one is ever going to read my thesis again.  But, in the words of a fellow aspiring author from my writers group, once a writer publishes, “the words are out of his hands.”  If Roth had  read Molly Ringwald’s New York Times blog post or at least MY blog post on her post, he would have known that.  Everyone has different experiences and backgrounds that will lead to unique responses to fiction, art, etc.  The character you created isn’t yours once someone else consumes it. Let him go Roth, let him go…  I’d like to know what others think.  Holllla.

Follow This Blog! (You know you want to…)

Are you worried about <gasp!> missing illegalwriting blog posts?  Well, fear no more!  By simply going to the home page and entering your e-mail address under “Follow Blog” in the lower right hand corner, you can receive an e-mail every time I publish a post!  C’mon…you know you’re looking for ways to procrastinate. 🙂 Holllerrrr

The Ultimate Novelist: Toni Morrison (not who I’m trying to be).

The untouchable 81-year-old Toni Morrison will be signing copies of her new novel, “Home,” at Politics & Prose tomorrow, May 17, at 4pm.  I would go, except I can’t just leave in the middle of the day.  Well, I could–but not now that I’m blogging about it.

For the record, in my noveling pursuit I’m not trying to be like Toni Morrison.  In fact, she would probably not like whatever I end up producing.  While I appreciate intellectuals and academics, Morrison is so high brow, I’m get a headache just thinking about any attempt to try to emulate her.

What people need to understand about Toni Morrison (and I admit, I learned this from New York magazine), is that Toni Morrison is more like William Faulkner (a Great American Author) than, say Alice Walker (described as a Great African American Author or, alternatively, a Great Female Author, or worse, a Great African American Female Author).  I had heard somewhere that Morrison basically hated Terry McMillan (Waiting to Exhale author–can you find her books in my header photo??) but I didn’t realize until recently that she basically sees herself as above all black writers.  Maybe Morrison just wants to transcend the label—in other words, she just wants to be known as an accomplished writer, rather than an accomplished black writer.  To be honest, that’s my goal with my Lady Lit novel, and if Toni hasn’t been able to get past the label, I wonder if anyone ever will.  In college, I actually wrote my senior thesis about The Human Stain by Philip Roth.  It was about a brilliant, arrogant academic who was so light he could “pass” as a white, Jewish man in the 1940s.  I concluded that the reason he chose to be white and Jewish (during a time where I found evidence of lots of prejudice against Jews) was that it enabled to be viewed as a Brilliant Professor without being qualified by his ethnicity the way he most certainly would have been if people had known he was black.  I actually referred to Morrison’s book “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination,” in which she explains how all American fiction is influenced by African Americans.  I mean, all American life is influenced by African Americans because African Americans…are American (as Obama is constantly trying to convince everyone).

You see how I had to go all the way back to my senior thesis to even discuss Toni Morrison? High brow.  Anyway, I haven’t read “Home” but below is what I learned about Toni Morrison from New York Magazine:

  • She’s 81 years old
  • She won the Nobel Prize in 1993 for an entire body of work (first black woman Nobelist)
  • She was born Chloe Wofford, and hates that her legacy includes her ex-husband’s last name, Morrison
  • Her son, Slade, died 16 months ago (pancreatic cancer) at age 45
  • She was the one who called Bill Clinton the first black president in the New Yorker (well I didn’t learn that in the article, but it’s still interesting)
  • She has, like, a million homes
  • She’s trying to distance herself from Oprah (who made her novel Beloved into a movie)
  • Home  refers to the protagonist’s Georgia hometown, which lies at the end of a long, tortuous journey. Traumatized by atrocities in Korea and the Deep South of his childhood, Frank races back to save his sister from a sadistic white doctor.

What’s your favorite Toni Morrison novel?  Have you met her or taken a class with her?  Will her legacy be Great American Author or Great African American Author?