Black Father in Letter to His Son

Dear Langston,

I thought of you when I saw the son of Alton Sterling weeping at a press conference. It was the latest of a string of haunting public rituals of grief. The police had killed another black person. His cries made me think of you. It seems, ever since the murder of Trayvon Martin—and you were only fifteen then—that you have had to come to terms with this pressing fact: that police can wantonly kill us, and there seems to be little or no protection. That even I can’t protect you.

I remembered that day when the grand jury in Cleveland declined to indict the police officers who killed Tamir Rice. We were in an airport, traveling home. You cursed out loud and paced liked a trapped animal. I didn’t know how to speak to your rage. It was familiar to me, but I didn’t know what to say. How could I keep it from seeping in and coloring your soul a deep shade of blue? And when I read your Facebook posts in response to the death of Sterling and Philando Castile, I felt the sting of your anger. It too was familiar. You are your grandfather’s and father’s child.

James Baldwin wrote—and you know how much I love Baldwin—in “The Uses of the Blues” that “in every generation, ever since Negroes have been here, every Negro mother and father has had to face that child and try to create in that child some way of surviving this particular world, some way to make the child who will be despised not despise himself.” He wrote that in 1964, and here we are in 2016, and I am worried about the state of your spirit—worried that the ugliness of this world and the nastiness of some of the white people who inhabit it might dirty you on the inside. Might take away your infectious smile and replace it with a permanent scowl.

I find myself more often than not, and upon reflection this is an astonishing thing to say no less think, wishing you were seven years old again. You were adorable at seven. The vexations of the teenage years were far off, and you still liked me. But I say this not because I find having an empty nest unbearable, although at times I do, or that I long to raise a teenager again—and eventually you would be that maddening teenager again. I just say it because I feel that you would be safer at home, with us.

Those tears, son, shook me. Diamond Reynolds’s four-year-old baby consoling her mother made me tremble. I love you, and I don’t know what I would do if anything ever happened to you. But I am proud to see your radical rage—your refusal to believe what this world says about you. Keep fighting. And remember, as your grandmother reminds me with all of the wisdom that Mississippi living can muster, that I won’t stop worrying about you until I die.

Love,

Dad


Dear Dad,

When I saw those videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I thought of you and mom. I thought of Michael Brown’s mother and the emotions she felt when they stole her son from her, and I wondered about the pain and anguish you both would feel if that was me in those videos. Then I, too, saw the video of Alton Sterling’s son, and I thought about if it had been one of you in those videos, stolen from me by a trigger-happy policeman. The thought alone triggered emotions inside me that I didn’t know existed. I wept.

I remember when I first really started getting into activism. You were always checking up on me, making sure I was safe and that I was being careful about what I said and who I said it to. I thought you were being your typical dad self, over-protective of your little boy. I also remember when I started getting death threats on Facebook and Twitter. A neo-Nazi group had put my picture up on their Twitter page. I was terrified. I ran to you.

You may not have known it then, but your presence at the time was perhaps one of the most important things that could have happened to me. On the outside I appeared to be able to keep my composure, but on the inside I was scared. With a single tweet, my confidence and feeling of safety was shattered. To be honest, I almost didn’t want to go outside. The world seemed like it was doing everything in its power to destroy me. I was overwhelmed. And despite your parental instincts, which I know were screaming to pull me off social media, you pushed me to reach higher, to stand by the right, and to rise above the ugliness I was experiencing. You taught me that fear is natural, but it’s what we do in the face of fear that determines what kind of person we want to be. I will never forget those words. They motivated me. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

In these times of injustice, great anger and grief, I find myself consistently asking, “What would my father do?” Crazy, right? I’m actually listening to your advice for once. But it’s your advice that keeps me going. It’s what you taught me that keeps me pushing for justice. It’s knowing that you love and support me that gives me some sense of safety in this cruel world. And that is everything I need.

Funny, I too find myself wishing that I were a kid again. The world seemed so much simpler back then. But then I remember Tamir Rice. I remember Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Aiyana Jones. I look at the faces of countless black bodies piling up in our streets. And I remember my own experiences with police officers as a kid. The struggle must continue, for our future’s sake.

I love you, Dad.

Langston

Toni Morrison Papers Open for Research

Toni Morrison at Princeton University

Republished from Princeton University RBSC Manuscripts Division News

The Princeton University Library is pleased to announce that the major portion of the Toni Morrison Papers (C1491), part of the Library’s permanent collections since 2014, is now open for research. The papers are located in the Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, in the Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library. They contain more than two hundred linear feet of archival materials that document the life and work of Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate in Literature (1993) and Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities (Emeritus) at Princeton University. Morrison’s papers were gathered from multiple locations over more than two decades, beginning with the files recovered by the Library’s Preservation Office after the tragic fire that destroyed her home in 1993. Over the past eighteen months, the most significant of the papers have been organized, described, cataloged, and selectively digitized. The papers are described online in a finding aid.

Most important for campus-based and visiting researchers are some fifty linear feet of the author’s manuscripts, drafts, and proofs for the author’s novels The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Tar Baby (1981), Beloved (1987), Jazz (1992), Paradise (1997), Love (2003), A Mercy (2008), Home (2012), and God Help the Child (2015). The only exception are materials for Song of Solomon (1977), which are believed lost. In the interest of preservation, by agreement with the author, all of these manuscripts have been digitized in the Library’s Digital Studio. Research access to digital images of Morrison’s manuscripts will be provided in the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room. The study of Morrison’s manuscripts illustrates her approach to the craft of writing and help trace the evolution of particular works, from early ideas and preliminary research, to handwritten drafts on legal-size yellow notepads, and finally corrected typescripts and proofs. The early drafts often differ substantially from the published book in wording and organization, and contain deleted passages and sections.

A single yellow notepad may contain a variety of materials, including content related to other works, drafts of letters, inserts for later typed and printed versions, and other unrelated notes. Corrected typescript and printout drafts often show significant revisions. Material from various stages of the publication process is present, including setting copies with copy-editor’s and typesetter’s marks, galleys, page proofs, folded-and-gathered pages (not yet bound), blueline proofs (“confirmation blues”), advance review copies (bound uncorrected proofs), and production/design material with page and dust-jacket samples. In addition to documenting Morrison’s working methods, the papers make it possible to see how books were marketed to the reading public and media, and also to trace the post-publication life of books, as they were translated, repackaged, reprinted, released as talking books, and adapted for film.

Among unexpected discoveries that came to light during archival processing are partial early manuscript drafts for The Bluest Eye and Beloved; and born-digital files on floppy disks, written using old word-processing software, including drafts of Beloved, previously thought to have been lost. Morrison also retained manuscripts and proofs for her plays Dreaming Emmett (1985) and Desdemona (2011); children’s books, in collaboration with her son Slade Morrison; short fiction; speeches, song lyrics; her opera libretto for Margaret Garner, with music by the American composer Richard Danielpour; lectures; and non-fiction writing.

Also valuable for researchers is Morrison’s literary and professional correspondence, approximately fifteen linear feet of material, including letters from Maya Angelou, Houston Baker, Toni Cade Bambara, Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Leon Higginbotham, Randall Kennedy, Ishmael Reed, Alice Walker, and others. Additional literary correspondence is found in Morrison’s selected Random House editorial files, where her authors included James Baldwin, Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, and Julius Lester. Morrison also retained drafts, proofs and publication files related to two works by Toni Cade Bambara, which Morrison posthumously edited for publication; as well as photocopies of selected correspondence of James Baldwin, 1957-1986, and materials relating to Baldwin’s literary estate.

The remaining Morrison Papers are being processed and will be made available for research gradually over the next year, with arrangement and description to be completed by spring 2017. These include her Princeton office files and teaching materials, fan mail, appointment books (sometimes called diaries), photographs, media, juvenilia, memorabilia, and press clippings. Complementing the papers are printed editions of Morrison’s novels and other published books; translations of her works into more than twenty foreign languages; and a selection of annotated books. Morrison’s additional manuscripts and papers will be added over time.

Beyond the Toni Morrison Papers, the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections holds other archival, printed, and visual materials about African American literature and history. The best files are in American publishing archives. For example, the Manuscripts Division holds the Harper & Brothers author files for Richard Wright’s books Uncle Tom’s Children (1938), Native Son (1940), Black Boy (1945), Outsider (1953),Black Power (1954), and Pagan Spain (1957); Charles Scribner’s Sons author files for Zora Neale Hurston, chiefly pertaining to her novel Seraph on the Suwanee (1948); and theQuarterly Review of Literature files of Ralph Ellison’s corrected typescripts and proofs for three extracts from early working drafts of his second, posthumously published novelJuneteenth (1999).

For information about the Toni Morrison Papers, please consult the online finding aid. For information about visiting the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and using its holdings, please contact the Public Services staff at rbsc@princeton.edu