toni mcnaron's garden

Toni McNaron has been talking about and writing books and stories for many decades. As a child, she often chose to read a good book rather than going to the local ice cream shop with neighborhood friends. After trying to be a physics and math major in college, she admitted that it was her literature class and teacher who really inspired and satisfied her intellectual curiosity. As a college professor for thirty-seven years, Toni worked with young people to help them feel the power of beautiful language and the centrality of reading about people whose actions and cultures stretched students’ perspectives and awakened empathy even for characters who overt actions might offend or frighten them.

Her own writing has ranged widely:  editing a pioneering collection of stories by women who survived incest; two memoirs of growing up in an unreconstructed South and, more recently, of wrestling with God until she has forged a comfortable faith for herself as a lesbian-feminist; editing essays about famous sister pairs in literature; editing and writing articles about Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, writing in code, pedagogical concerns, and attraction based on sameness rather than opposition.

Since 2001, Toni has been able to refashion how she wants to spend her time, finding in retirement creative ways to “teach” good books to curious adults even as she has turned her considerable yard into a series of wonderful gardens that sustain her, lots of local birds, and the occasional welcomed bunny rabbit. In these times so full of race-based inequities, Toni has decided to use her considerable teaching skills to introduce mostly white and older readers to books by and about black life now and into the inglorious past. This is her way to resist as she enters more seriously into consideration of mortality.

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The Machine in the Garden

The year I began teaching literature at the University of Minnesota in 1964, Leo Marx published his important book, The Machine in the Garden.  Though Marx was teaching literature in the newly minted department of American Studies, I never met him.  Because everyone... read more

Salvage the Bones: Coda

When I set out to write about Jesmyn Ward’s novel, Salvage the Bones, I meant to speak about several aspects that have moved me and driven me to deep thought.  I became so wrapped up in talking about Skeetah’s relationship with his white pit bull, China,... read more

Salvage the Bones

I’m definitely a cat person when we are dividing the world into cat people or dog people.  So when I began Jesmyn Ward’s 2010 novel, Salvage the Bones, I was not immediately drawn in.  The opening scene depicts a female pit bull named China as she gives... read more