Episode - 63 Toni Ann Johnson
I first met Toni Ann Johnson when we were both MFA students at Antioch University Los Angeles. I was new to the program, and she was close to wrapping up her studies. She was incredibly confident and no nonsense but also incredibly kind. I was in awe of her knowledge and her strength, and I still am.
Toni Ann is a bad woman, y'all.
I was over the moon to have her as a guest on ReadMore to discuss her new, award-winning, linked short story collection, Light Skin Gone to Waste. The collection won the 2021 Flannery O'Conner Award for short fiction. Author Roxane Gay chose the book as the winner and also edited it.
Toni Ann has also published an award-winning novella, Homegoing, and a novel, Remedy for a Broken Angel. She has also written award-winning screenplays for the Disney movie Ruby Bridges and for the film Crown Heights, which was produced by Showtime.
The stories in this collection are based on Toni's experiences growing up in Monroe, New York, a small, nearly all-white community just north of the city, during the 60s and 70s.
The Arringtons are a cosmopolitan, upwardly mobile Black family. Dr. Phillip Arrington came from an impoverished background to rise to the top of his field as a psychologist despite the overt racism of the time. But his family life is in shambles. He openly cheats on his wife with white women. His wife, Velma, is a striver who is smart, savvy about people, and beautiful. She becomes the owner of an antique shop. But she also has a volatile personality and is abusive to her daughter, Madeline or Maddie. Phil's daughter from her first marriage, Livia, also occasionally stays with the family.
These stories explore the intersection between race and class and how those things are shaped by colorism and gender dynamics.
I just loved this collection. Toni Ann's writing reminded me of the close examination of the lives of Black women and girls in short fiction by ZZ Packer and Deesha Philyaw.
During our interview, Toni Ann reveals...
- why she was in a very dark place just before submitting this collection
- her mother's unusual reaction to a story that depicts her as an abusive parent and dog owner
- the popular book that she finds upsetting
Click here to listen to the episode. You can help Toni Ann and the show by purchasing Light Skin Gone to Waste here.
The first listener to reach out to us on either Facebook or Twitter to tell us whose books Toni Ann found herself listening to repeatedly during the pandemic will win a free, signed copy of Light Skin Gone to Waste.
If you have won a ReadMore giveaway in the last 90 days, you're ineligible. If you and I ever ate together at Top of the Hill, you're probably ineligible. But we'll always have those southern part of heaven memories.