A short take on the Toni Morrison Society's Bench by the Road project.
Written by Howard Rambsy II
Read by Kassandra Timm.
People respond to works by novelists with book reviews or scholarly articles and books. They respond with comments during class discussions. Producers respond by adapting novels into plays, movies, and series on streaming services. However, one of the most far-reaching creative responses to a novelist’s idea was the placement of a bench by the road.
You’re listening to Remarkable Receptions – a podcast about popular and critical responses to African American novels.
In 1989, in an interview, Toni Morrison pointed out that there was no place for anyone to reflect on the experiences of enslaved black people. “There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park,” she said. “There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road.”
Morrison viewed her 1987 novel Beloved as one site for remembering the experiences of enslaved people. In that interview, she was drawing a connection between her novel and sites of memory.
Members of the Toni Morrison Society, founded by Carolyn Denard, paid close attention to Morrison’s words about the absence of an adequate memorial for enslaved black people. On February 18, 2006, Morrison’s 75th birthday, the Toni Morrison Society launched the “Bench by the Road Project.”
The project assists communities and organizations in addressing the absence of black sites of memory. The benches are placed in key locations to memorialize slavery as well as important people and places that might otherwise be overlooked.
Since 2006, the Toni Morrison Society has placed more than 20 benches and plaques commemorating significant moments, events, locales, and people. The benches have been placed in:
and various other locations.
The Bench by the Road project represents a powerful way of remembering and acknowledging the experiences of black people. At the same time, the Bench by the Road project constitutes a remarkable response to Toni Morrison’s calls for African American remembrance.
This episode was written by Howard Rambsy. The episode was edited by Elizabeth Cali.
This podcast, Remarkable Receptions, is part of the Black Literature Network, a joint project from African American literary studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and the History of Black Writing at the University of Kansas. The project was made possible by the generous support of the Mellon Foundation. For more information, visit black lit network dot org.