Toni Morrison, World of Ideas
Produced and directed by Gail Pellett
Production Company: Public Affairs Television Inc.
Presented by: Thirteen/WNET, New York
Aired on: PBS     Date: 1988 and 1990
Distributed by: Acorn Media

Produced and directed for Bill Moyers for his series, World of Ideas –  interviews with  novelists, theologians, community activists. philosophers, playwrights and social and natural scientists — in search of the public intellectuals of our time.  World of Ideas was produced as a series in both 1988 and 1990.  Moyers always considered these two series of interviews as contributing to “the conversation of democracy” in our time.  The Toni Morrison two-parter aired during the 1990 season.

Morrison — author of potent novels of the  African American experience that reach deep and powerfully into everyone’s soul like The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and Beloved — had been an editor for Random House before becoming a distinguished professor and chair at Princeton University.  In 1988 she won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.   She had also garnered numerous honorary degrees.  In this interview she emphasizes the importance of love in our lives.  In 1993 — three years after this interview — she won the Noble Prize for Literature.

Winning the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Literature

I scouted for many of the folks Moyers ended up interviewing for both series of World of Ideas  and I produced at least a quarter of the interviews. During the first season I convinced Moyers to interview Cornel West who had never appeared on television before.  Likewise, for Chinua Achebe, the African novelist who wrote what is considered the “first” African novel, Things Fall Apart.   These interviews included truly fresh voices like the novelist, Bharati Mukherjee and Confucian scholar, Tu Wei Ming.   A couple of the interviews I produced and directed ended up becoming two parters — like the interview with Toni Morrison which was nominated for a an Emmy. As was the interview with Vartan Gregorian and Ernie Cortes. The two parter with Cortes, titled Concern for Democracy, included more documentary elements.  And while I had originally proposed an interview with Bernice Johnson Reagon, I also knew that she really deserved a more ‘documentary’ treatment and that resulted in the special, The Songs are Free, posted elsewhere on this site.

Interview by Bill Moyers

World of Idea interviews that I produced and directed include:  political theorist, Sheldon Wolin;  historians, James MacGregor Burns, Henry Steele Commager, and Forest McDonald;  Noble prize winning physicist, Murray Gell-Mann; novelists, Joseph Heller, E.L. Doctorow, and Tom Wolfe;  popular Harvard philosopher of theories of justice, Michael Sandel;  professor of religion, Stephen Rockefeller; and influential scientist, Steven Weinberg, and more.

Clips of these interviews along with the whole and or collected interviews are available in both book and video form all over the web.  Amazon offers up the Toni Morrison special in particular.

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