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Oprah Winfrey Recalls the First Time Toni Morrison Was a Guest on Her Show

By Ashley Hume

LOS ANGELES (Variety) – “The very first time I had her on the ‘Oprah’ show, she said to me, ‘I’ve always known I was gallant.’ I was like, ‘Who the hell knows they’re gallant?’” Oprah Winfrey told reporters of her late friend and creative collaborator Toni Morrison on Tuesday night at the premiere of ’s original series “David Makes Man” in Los Angeles. “Her sense of confidence and self-assurance and nobility is what impressed me the most.”

FILE PHOTO: Novelist Morrison smiles with President Obama as he prepares to award her a 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House in Washington

A day after the death of the groundbreaking Nobel Prize-winning author, Winfrey reminisced about Morrison’s first appearance on “The Show” and the power of her words. “She said, ‘what I realize is that what every child really wants is to know, do your eyes light up when I enter the room?’ ”

Winfrey, who told Variety that she had yet to be informed of memorial plans for Morrison, continued, “Those words, I think, resonated. I could see it resonated with every woman, everyone just did a collective ‘Ahh, yes,’ and thought about when children show up in the room. It’s not just about your children, it’s your children, your grandchildren, your lover, your husband, anybody who you care about. That’s all they are looking to see. Do your eyes light up when I enter the room? So that’s the great memory and gift that I think that she gave to me and to the audience. I think people will read her books, they will feel whatever they feel, they will experience literature at its finest, but do your eyes light up when I enter the room?”

FILE PHOTO: Singer Jessye Norman (R) talks to members of the press as Toni Morrison (C) and Elton John look on i..

Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Moonlight” and “David Makes Man” creator Tarell Alvin McCraney also paid tribute to Morrison. “I stand on her legacy,” McCraney told Variety. “The foundation that she laid as an artist, as a literary artist, can’t be quantified. I can try, I can really try, but all I can say is she brought an interiority that looked at black life in a way that is so beautiful and profound that we will always be counting our blessings for having her.”

McCraney’s first television foray, “David Makes Man,” is a lyrical drama that tells the story of a gifted teenager from the South Florida projects who struggles to balance a promising academic future with his life on the streets. Akili McDowell, who plays the titular character of David, spoke about the visibility that Winfrey’s name alone as executive producer brings to the series.

“It’s definitely cool to have your boss be a legend,” McDowell told Variety. “Just how important she is and how influential she is across the world.”

FILE PHOTO: President Obama awards novelist Toni Morrison a 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House in Washington

“David Makes Man” showrunner Dee Harris-Lawrence said she was impressed with Winfrey’s level of personal involvement in the show’s production. “It’s been incredible,” Harris-Lawrence said. “I mean, it’s Oprah and for a little bit… you think she’s just going to be Oprah and she’s going to be like the godmother. No, she’s involved. We had conversations with her about casting, makeup, production design — she is definitely in there as a producer. So that was wonderful to be able to be able to talk to her about all those things from story down to editing cuts. It has been an absolute dream.”

McCraney credited co-executive producer Michael B. Jordan with believing in the project early on and driving him from pitch meeting to pitch meeting. Winfrey said the pitch for “David Makes Man” was the best one she had ever heard in her life.

Jordan told Variety that he believes audiences will be immediately drawn to the authenticity of “David Makes Man.” “The amazing cast, the storytelling, the cinematography is awesome. We had some dream-like sequences that were really, really visual and feel very, very cinematic. I think it’s an honest representation of characters shown on TV, an honest portrayal of what that community looks like, what that Florida community looks like, and the representation of young black and brown boys throughout the entire world that have gone through similar situations. I think that a lot of people will connect with the characters on the show from all walks of life. I think that is truly important.”

“David Makes Man” premieres Aug. 14 on the OWN Network.

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