Bookfest Windsor’s Opening Panel Successfully Delves Into Toni Morrison

(Local actor Leslie McCurdy reading from Toni Morrison’s book Song of Solomon during the first panel session of Bookfest Windsor at the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts downtown campus Armouries building on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Photo above by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.)

Discouraged by what she observed as a lack of attention to detail in American Black literature, Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison, better known to her legion of fans as Toni Morrison, set out to change a few things and ended up with a number of awards for her own writing.

Books by author Toni Morrison at Bookfest Windsor

Books by author Toni Morrison on display during the first panel discussion of Bookfest Windsor at the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts downtown campus Armouries building on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

The Nobel laureate concentrated on telling stories about Black Americans. A discussion of her life and times between Vincent Georgie, Executive Director of the Windsor International Film Festival and local actor Leslie McCurdy, took on the form of a celebration Thursday night at the University of Windsor’s downtown School of Creative Arts during the opening act of this year’s Literary Arts Windsor’s Bookfest.

Vincent Georgie speaking during Bookfest Windsor

Vincent Georgie, Executive Director of the Windsor International Film Festival introducing the first panel of guests during Bookfest Windsor at the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts downtown campus Armouries building on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

Although Morrison lived her life mostly as a writer, there were innumerable options to turn her writings into movies. With the help of famed American talk show host Oprah Winfrey, Georgie tells the audience, her book Beloved was eventually made into a movie, one which actually starred Oprah. But earnings were disappointing. Interest in Morrison’s work flagged, until now.

books by author Toni Morrison at Bookfest Windsor

Three of the popular titles by author Toni Morrison on sale during the first panel discussion of Bookfest Windsor at the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts downtown campus Armouries building on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

If nothing else, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am signals a new interest in the prolific author and is scheduled to be shown Saturday, November 9, 1:55pm at the Capitol Theatre as part of the Windsor International Film Festival.

Video interview with author Toni Morrison at Bookfest Windsor

Historic videotaped interviews with author Toni Morrison being shown during the first panel session of Bookfest Windsor at the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts downtown campus Armouries building on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

Videotaped interview with author Toni Morrison

A historic videotaped interview with author Toni Morrison being shown during the first panel session of Bookfest Windsor at the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts downtown campus Armouries building on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

That Morrison came to be the lead author in this year’s Bookfest was nothing if not serendipitous, the product of a lunch Georgie shared with Colleen Mitchell, the chair of Bookfest’s planning committee. Mitchell tells Eyes on Windsor it was a meeting of minds and with her love of Morrison’s work she knew it had to happen, “It was what we needed to do.”

The skeleton of the first panel session of this year’s Bookfest was mapped out over lunch. Details to follow included engaging local actor Leslie McCurdy, also a long-time Morrison fan, to read from Morrison’s Sons of Solomon and Sula.

Leslie McCurdy reading from Toni Morrison’s book Sula

Local actor Leslie McCurdy reading from Toni Morrison’s book Sula during the first panel session of Bookfest Windsor at the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts downtown campus Armouries building on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

Engaging McCurdy was nothing short of a stroke of pure brilliance. A multi-talented actor, dancer, and writer in her own right, she demonstrated a unique ability to take Morrison’s conversational style and lift her words right off the page, as if Morrison was doing the reading herself.

During a question and answer session, she reminisced about reading Morrison’s books while growing up in South Windsor. So moved, she hoped to one day play the characters in the books.

Possibly it could happen. Georgie told the audience things have changed in the motion picture industry following the release of Beloved. Today there is an almost unsated need for content with all the new cable and streaming sites with Morrison’s writings offering some of the best stories around. With that expectation, it is not inconceivable that one day soon McCurdy’s childhood dreams could come to fruition.

Leslie McCurdy and Vincent Georgie during Bookfest Windsor

Actor Leslie McCurdy (left) and Vincent Georgie, Executive Director of the Windsor International Film Festival, during a panel discussion of Toni Morrison’s writings at Bookfest Windsor at the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts downtown campus Armouries building on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Photo by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.

Now, in its 18th year, Bookfest brings both aspiring writers and the fans of good literature together in a structured series of events and workshops.

There is, as the saying goes, something for everyone and almost every age. Friday, at 7pm, the focus shifts to poetry relative to the history of Detroit music in a panel discussion titled Respect featuring M.L. Liebler, Jim Daniels, W.D. Ehrhart and, Cindy Hunter Morgan, which Mitchell promises will be equally as entertaining and intellectually stimulating as Thursday’s opener.

Saturday combines kid’s with various genres of adult literature. The day’s first workshop, at 11am, covers Graphic Storytelling with Jessica Bromley Bartram and Ben O’Neil. At 1pm, the first afternoon event is a bookish delight for children, from 8-12, with Vanessa Shields the proprietor of Gertrude’s Writing Room.

At the same time, but not the same room, the event’s third panel will have Melanie Janisse Barlow, Gwen Benaway and Jim Johnstone discuss poetry. At 4pm, Moderator Teajai Travis will explore fiction writing with authors Blair Hurley and Nadia Lubiw-Hazard.

A second 4pm Non-Fiction Spotlight will feature Biblioasis best-selling author Mark Bourrie discussing his latest, the Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre Esprit Radisson, a co-founder of the Hudson Bay Company. Bourrie will be interviewed by Peter Hrastovec.

Panel 5, at 5pm, will see two authors, Hassan Ghedi Santur and Sandra Muse, discuss storytelling in conversation with Barry Brodie. At 8pm the topic of non-fiction will bring Canadian author Lindsay Wong into the spotlight. No doubt some of the conversation will include discussion of her memoir, The Woo Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons and My Crazy Chinese Family. Other events are also planned, details can be found at https://www.bookfestwindsor.com

In BookFest Windsor’s inaugural year, 2002, 450 attended what was a single day program. Since that time, Literary Arts Windsor, a registered non-profit organization, has developed partnerships with various local organizations including the University, Windsor Public Library and the Art Gallery and expanded the program to three days.

Robert Tuomi

Article by Robert Tuomi

For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.