Miss Chloe A memoir of a literary friendship with Toni Morrison

A. J. Verdelle, 1960-

Book - 2022

"The award-winning author of The Good Negress shares invaluable insights on the precarious journey toward creativity that is the writer's life, and tells the compelling story of her relationship with Toni Morrison, painting an illuminating portrait of this towering yet enigmatic cultural icon. With the publication of her debut novel The Good Negress in 1995, A. J. Verdelle became an overnight sensation, winning critical acclaim and competing for prestigious literature prizes. But for Verdelle, the most unexpected consequence was the friendship she formed with the legendary Toni Morrison. Receiving an advance copy of the book, the Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning author-notorious for never giving early praise-called The Good Negres...s, "Truly Extraordinary." It was a writer's dream come true-a dream that for Verdelle would become simultaneously exhilarating and challenging. Now, twenty-five years later, Verdelle tells the story of that success and what came after. Miss Chloe begins with the story of young Verdelle's persistent aim to become an author, spending countless pre-dawn hours writing the novel that became The Good Negress. Verdelle then turns to the heady period after publication, focusing on her relationship with Toni-a precious gift that was most of the time a grace and a blessing, and at other times, confusing and too separate from literature. While Morrison continued to rise as an icon, Verdelle's writing career took a sharp turn. Verdelle's next novel-a Western featuring Black characters-is quickly bought by a young editor who leaves for another job before the manuscript is finished. Searching for direction, Verdelle moves to another publisher. Yet this second book will languish for more than fifteen years. In chronicling her journey, Verdelle offers an honest assessment of what it means to be a writer, including the expectations and let downs that famous friendships do not defray. Miss Chloe ends with the period after Morrison has passed away, when Verdelle is left to face the reality of her writing career, pondering what it means to have promise that is yet to materialize. She finds comfort in advice Morrison offered over the years, insight she shares in this wise book. "In order for Morrison to take you seriously, to have patience with you, to be interested, you had to be able to hear her," Verdelle writes. "You had to be able to sit still and listen. You had to be able to pipe up in the pauses, and prove you understood. You needed demonstrate that language was a skill you had, that Black culture was known to you and respected by you""--

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2nd Floor 813.54/Verdelle Checked In
New York, NY : Amistad [2022]
Main Author
A. J. Verdelle, 1960- (author)
First edition
Physical Description
360 pages ; 22 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

A writer by definition engages in eternal self-reinvention; a literary genius sparks that reinvention in others. Chloe Wofford recreated herself as the literary titan Toni Morrison, and as Verdelle (The Good Negress, 1995) demonstrates, became the catalyst for a generation. "I have seen folk take definite action, in their own best interest, as a result of a Toni Morrison book," writes Verdelle, who developed a worshipful, decades-long literary friendship with Morrison, whom she valued as a mentor. Yet there remained a distance between them. "She did not want to 'help me' with my writing . . . She wanted me to deploy my own agency." Morrison abruptly told a gushing would-be writer, "Well it sounds like you don't know what you're doing." While Morrison did not suffer fools, she did celebrate Black courage and artistry with every shimmering word. Verdelle captures Morrison's appreciation for Black female labor in a loving tribute to baking yeast rolls--a lengthy, intricate ritual that nourishes and connects generations and is a tangible embodiment of Black family strength. Verdelle has created a remarkable literary portrait and memoir.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

Upon the publication of her first novel, The Good Negress, Verdelle earned the coveted praise of one of her literary role models, award-winning author Toni Morrison. Their eventual friendship is used as a lens to present Verdelle's life and reflections in this vivid memoir. Verdelle tells of her journey beginning with her book-loving childhood, when she first read Morrison's works, to becoming a published author and professor of creative writing. With similar career paths and shared lived experiences, Verdelle's multifaceted friendship with Morrison was deeply influential on her life. Morrison became a source of wisdom, guidance, and sometimes frustration, with their friendship ebbing and flowing for decades until Morrison's passing in 2019. Verdelle also reflects on the power and interconnection of language and race, offering readers a celebration of not only Morrison's works but the power of literature for voices long oppressed. VERDICT Verdelle's stunningly precise and poetic language is a joy to savor. Morrison fans will delight in revisiting her works through Verdelle's eyes and meeting the enigmatic writer in an intimate way.--Anitra Gates

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

The joys, challenges, and lasting lessons of a friendship with Chloe Ardelia Wofford, aka Toni Morrison. "When I met Toni Morrison in person, I had been her reader and her cheerleader for dozens of years," writes Verdelle. What followed was more than two decades of friendship and hero worship, including delights and resentments big and small (the author is still wondering why Morrison had to steal her favorite scarf), along with "two and a half spats" dished in detail. Morrison may have been a diva in many ways, but Verdelle couldn't have met her under more auspicious circumstances. In 1997, after she received a copy of Verdelle's first (and only) published novel, The Good Negress, Morrison sent back an unsolicited appreciation, almost unheard of. She went on to get the younger author invited to teach at Princeton, where she herself was ensconced alongside Black luminaries like Cornel West, Nell Painter, and Yusef Komunyakaa. Princeton was a mixed bag for Verdelle, who was ultimately repulsed by the overwhelming privilege on display. (She now teaches at Morgan State, a historically Black college in Baltimore.) Verdelle writes forcefully about the individual novels and about Morrison's achievement as a whole. "Relentlessly stripping the hegemonic gaze," she writes, "Morrison made us and our human complexities so visible, in language so eloquent and deep, that the whole of world literature could not deny her innovation and brilliance." Elsewhere, she writes, "Morrison is to literature as James Brown is to popular culture"--the essence of Black and proud. The book is too long in the way of a phone conversation where the other person keeps thinking of one more thing they have to tell you, but luckily enough, that turns out to be interesting, as well. Verdelle is not afraid to grind an ax if necessary, and the one involving the failure of her second novel to see print is sharp indeed. Maybe something can be done about that. Passionate, personal, insightful, testy, and unique. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.