Toni Morrison’s colleague and friend from her days at Alfred Knopf, Fran Liebowitz, explains in one scene from the documentary “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” the author’s love of gifts, clothes, and parties. Liebowitz was speaking more specifically (and in hilarious detail) about the festivities surrounding Morrison’s receipt of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, but she also got the point across that in general, Morrison is a woman who loves nice things and a good time.

At the recent New York Public Library screening of the film, which debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and goes into wide release on June 21, the atmosphere was one that Morrison, had she been in attendance, would certainly have appreciated.

It could have been the white wine on hand courtesy of the New York Public Library whose Schwarzman Building served as the location for the screening, but it was more likely two other elements sure to make any event great: love and respect.

Laughter, cheers, and finger snaps were heard throughout the screening. The audience, which included luminaries such as author Paula Giddings, actress Rosie Perez, author Gay Telese, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, film producer Michelle Materre and many others, no doubt love Morrison and her work. They were as likely also moved by filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ masterfully wrought 119 minute documentary.

Moderated by bestselling author Asha Bandele, emotions were high at the panel following the screening as well. It featured two of the commentators from the film: Columbia Professor Dr. Farrah Griffin and legendary poet Sonia Sanchez. It also featured award-winning journalist Jimmie Briggs, and the film’s director.

Both Sanchez and Bandele at times fought back tears from the stage of the Celeste Auditorium as they discussed “The Pieces That I Am,” and what Morrison meant to them. Regaining her composure, Sanchez in her familiar, pleasing cadence, implored audience members to make sure that children read Morrison’s work.

Sanchez scoffed at the idea that Morrison’s work is too difficult for young people. “Do you think these ideas are too difficult for little children?” She asked the audience. “You’re an idiot! Children think better ideas than we ever thought on this planet, and will continue to do that. Are we protecting them from themselves? Or from you, who don’t even have a clue as to what it means to walk upright? Toni did!” The audience roared in appreciation.

Turning to Briggs, Bandele asked him to come up with two episodes of a hypothetical series about Morrison and her work. Briggs replied, “One would be on Black masculinity because I think as a high school student, in the Midwest—and Missouri in my case—reading ‘Song of Solomon’ gave me an understanding more of who I was as a young Black man at that time. I also understand it as starting this kind of larger narrative of men and Black men in this country.” Briggs, much of whose work focuses on child soldiers, added, “Her work also talks about historical trauma, inherited and passed on. That would have to be something we tended to, particularly talking about people who were not immigrants but came by force in this country.”

Farrah Griffin recalled Morrison’s kindness when she met the author as a young student. “She’d never remember this, but I was a college student that was in a room full of white male mostly, college students. And she caught my gaze. Of course, she didn’t know who I was, but she caught my gaze and finished talking to whoever was there. Then she did like this.” Griffin indicated that Morrison motioned for Griffin to come to her. “So I always say that, in her work, and in her person, she beckons, and she beckons us and we come.”

After the emotional panel, the atmosphere that felt like a reunion of old friends as audience members took time to reconnect with one another. Chatting briefly with The Amsterdam News, Bandele stated, “I felt after seeing this film such a closeness that we don’t typically get from Toni Morrison. She usually talks about her work and not as much about herself. This brought us into an interior place and I feel privileged.”

The film is told through not just commentary from Morrison’s friends and colleagues but also a lush musical score and striking imagery in the form of art and photography from some of America’s most prominent artists. Morrison herself provides, with great levity, much of the information about her life as a child raised in a heavily ethnically and racially diverse Midwestern town of Lorain, Ohio and her growth as a writer.

Dr. Brenda Green, director of the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, was also in attendance. Speaking to The Amsterdam News she explained what struck her most about the film. “I loved hearing Toni’s voice. She’s just so witty and warm. I loved her reflections on why she writes. What was the inspiration behind the stories, what really motivated her to write.” Dr. Green also appreciated what Morrison had to say about writing from the perspective of a person of color. “ I loved that she really wanted us to understand what it means to be a Black woman personally, and I loved her explanation of getting away from the white gaze. That was really powerful.”