Chicago singer Jamila Woods shared her acclaimed LP Legacy! Legacy!, which stood as a tribute to several Black artists and visionaries throughout history, back in 2019. Woods followed up the album last August with “Sula (Paperback),” a tribute to the late Toni Morrison one year after her death. On Wednesday, Woods brought her moving Morrison tribute to a tranquil performance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
Taking the dimly lit stage backed by a full band, including a string section, Woods tenderly delivered a moving rendition of the song. “Sula (Paperback)” is inspired by Toni Morrison’s 1973 novel Sula and is penned from the perspective of protagonist Sula Peace and her relationship depicted in the book. Speaking about her inspiration behind the single in a statement, Woods said:
“It’s the first Toni Morrison novel I ever read and it inspired the first chapbook of poems I ever wrote. The novel shows the evolution of a friendship between two Black women and how they choose to navigate society’s strict gender roles and rules of respectability. On Sula, Toni Morrison wrote, ‘living totally by the law and surrendering totally to it without questioning anything sometimes makes it impossible to know anything about yourself.’ Returning to the story several years later, it gave me permission to reject confining ideas about my identity designed to shrink my spirit. It reminded me to embrace my tenderness, my sensitivities, my ways of being in my body. This song is a mantra to allow myself space to experience my gender, love, intimacy, and sexuality on my own terms.”
Watch Woods perform “Sula (Paperback)” on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert above.