I just got news that the famous author Toni Morrison, transitioned this week. In case you don’t know her, Ms. Morrison was one of, if not the greatest black female novelist in American history. Almost all of her books were best sellers, and the classic Beloved won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into film. She was also the professor of Humanities at Princeton university for over 15 years and was awarded the National Humanities Medal in the year 2000.
Sadly to say, I didn’t know much about Ms. Morrison growing up. But as I grew older, I remember my mom, who is also an author, telling me that Toni Morrison was the only black female author around when she first began writing her own novels back in the day. So me being curious, I looked her up and found my moms words to be true. But in my research, I began to grow a deep admiration for Ms. Morrison, inspired by the radical way she discussed the black experience in her books, essays, poems, speeches and interviews.
Throughout my young adult years — the years I was socially conscious — I would sometimes revisit the past works of Ms. Morrison, to see how she approached certain issues in the black community, and weigh it against my own perspective. And while reading or listening to her, I often found myself in awe at her ability to paint vivid pictures with words; being able to express so much in such short spaces.
She inspired me to step my writing game up. And when I looked around at other writers i admired, she seemed to have that same effect. Just like my mom, her words inspired thousands of other black folks to pursue the craft of writing. Fast forward to today, almost all of the present famous black writers, both male and female, shout out Toni Morrison as the source of inspiration.
“She made me understand “writer” was a fine profession. I grew up wanting to be only her. Dinner with her was a night I will never forget. Rest, Queen. “Toni Morrison, seminal author who stirringly chronicled the Black American experience, dies.” – Shonda Rhimes, tv writer
“I learned not only that I could be a writer, but that I could be a great writer from her. One of my favorite sayings [of hers is] I am the greatest, not because I am better than anyone, but because nobody is better than me.” Kwame Alexander, author
“Toni Morrison, you were the first person who taught me, I am not anyone else’s version of me. ‘Definitions belong to the definer, not the defined.’ And you taught me that we don’t ‘fall in love’ we rise in it. I’ve carried both with me ever since.” – Maryam Hassna, spiritual writer
“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” Those were some of the guiding words that inspired me to finally write the book I longed to do. This woman was more than a writer, she was a prophet.” – Ernest Owens, journalist
“For this once-young writer who was always told that black people, my people, were somehow not universal, that wanting to write about black people was limiting, a harm to my career, Toni Morrison was my Bible and my light. Unapologetically black before it was a catch phrase.” – Nikole Hannah-Jones, journalist
“Toni Morrison’s writing speaks for itself… I will simply say that she single handedly altered my life with her grace, generosity and her words. I am simply not this version of me without her.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates, author
As you can see, Ms. Morrison had a huge impact on our modern writers, including myself. As a black liberation writer, one of the things I loved about Ms. Morrison is her constant promotion of the real issues black people faced in her novels and her constant refusal to write about things to appease white people for commercial success. In interviews, she always stood her ground for us, the same way she did in her novels; and I respect that about her more than anything.
Out of all the words I’ve heard her speak, one stands out to me the most. In an old interview she once did in the 70’s, she told a reporter the following: “I look very hard for black fiction because I want to participate in developing a canon of black work… We’ve had the first rush of black entertainment, where blacks were writing for whites, and whites were encouraging this kind of self-flagellation. Now we can get down to the craft of writing, where black people are talking to black people.”
When I heard those last words, I realized that’s what I had been doing all of my life; writing specifically for my people. But it made me feel honored to be fulfilling the vision that Toni Morrison had for those of us who write. So I carry those words with me to keep me focused.
Now that she has passed, I wanted to salute her with this article as a token of my appreciation for her. So, thank you Mrs. Morrison for the work you contributed to us with your life. And may your transition into the ancestral realm be as smooth as your writing. Ase!