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Toni Morrison: The Woman and the Legend

In her first novel, The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison tells the story of black girlhood in the United States. She explained that she wrote it because there was no one telling the stories of what it is like to be her. In doing this, she put into words the experiences, emotions, and perspectives of millions of black women both young and old. Her voice relayed the experiences of black women, yet her work had the ability to transcend race and resonate with a diverse audience. While her prose could seem, at times, to be hypnotizing, it was also chilling in its relatability. She continued to inspire writers and analyze the complexities of society through her work until her death in August.

Toni Morrison and her work

Toni Morrison and Wole Soyinka
Morrison with fellow black Nobel prize winner, Wole Soyinka

Following the trend of the Bluest Eye, Morrison’s later work focused on the experiences of Black Americans by epitomizing their plights while simultaneously emphasizing the complexities of their character. One of her most notable works, Beloved is deeply sociological in its analysis of pain, the generational and emotional impact of slavery, family relationships, and even the societal definition of manhood. She is skillful in her ability to portray a story who’s horrifying qualities are sourced from its realism and not from its supernatural qualities.

In Beloved, the main character Sethe, is forced to acknowledge her pain when she is visited by the physical embodiment of her daughter whose life she took. Morrison’s portrayal of life after slavery is difficult to consume yet it demands that attention be paid to it. Along with its characters, the reader is urged to address the sources of their own pain and is warned of the perils associated with letting it fester.

The protagonists in her stories hold a mirror up to society; they highlight the good and the bad that exist in all people, while showing how each warring characteristic contribute to the complexities of life. We can triumph with a selfish man when he finally finds healing and contentment. We empathize with the little girl who feels so ostracized by society that she finds friendship among prostitutes. We even feel compassion for the mother who murders her own child to spare her the cruelties of the world.

In the words of Annie Neugebauer, “How often do you find a book that challenges your mind, breaks your heart, shivers your spine, and tears your guts out.” Morrison was a master of storytelling and her talent was incomparable.

Toni Morrison: The woman and national treasure

Former U.S president, Barrack Obama, called Toni Morrison a “national treasure”.
Credits: The insider

Toni Morrison was able to identify with a multitude of black identities because she existed in a multitude of different spheres. She was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio. As a child, Toni Morrison expressed an interest in literature and storytelling. Throughout her academic career, she was afforded the opportunity to study at such prestigious universities as Howard University and Cornell University. She also contributed to the academic field by serving as an instructor at Texas Southern University, Yale University, Rutgers University, Bard College, Princeton University, as well as her alma mater, Howard University. She nourished her love of literature and storytelling by working as an editor for Random House Publishing.

“How often do you find a book that challenges your mind, breaks your heart, shivers your spine, and tears your guts out.”

Annie Neugebauer

Toni Morrison’s voice and overall way of thinking should be regarded as a national treasure. President Obama even referred to her as such on the day of her passing. During her lifetime, she received a multitude of honorary degrees from the likes of Harvard University, Yale University, Brown University, Columbia University and Dartmouth University. None to be overshadowed by the reception of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize, the 2000 Library of Congress Bicentennial Living Legend award, or the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature for her novel, Beloved.

Aside from her fictious work, Toni Morrison regularly supplied commentary on Black American life. Her lectures in academia as well as a collection of her published essays all demonstrate intellectual and political insightfulness.

Exit of a legend

Morrison’s death is seen as a tragedy in a multitude of ways. For one, there is an obvious cavity in the world of literature when it comes to black voices. If you think about the most notable works of balck women writers the first few novels that come to mind are Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Sadly, only one of these women are still alive. Although it is true that writers and entertainers are still able to influence the world beyond the grave due to the works they leave behind, it is also true that the work left behind is not evolving to include the most modern experiences. Who will be there to tell the stories of the young women of today?

When it comes to Black women voices, a sense of credibility and relatability is needed in order to secure the attention of the masses. Although legendary women writers such as Alice Walker are still living, their work does not ring the same bell that Morrison’s did. Black women activist in academics such as bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins are still living, yet, their creations are meant for audiences that could only be subset to Morrison’s. For one thing, they are largely polarizing and are chiefly academic.

“Tonni Morrison was a National Treasure”

Barrack Obama

Even when it comes to a meteor like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who is one of the most notable black women writers and feminist of today, she alone cannot solely fill the void that is left due to the deaths of some of the greatest and most notable black women writers.

To women

Toni Morrison was a mother to African Arts
Morrison, a mother of African Literature
Credits: The Nation

As women, we owe it to ourselves and to the women who came before us to share our experiences, share our perspectives, and share our knowledge with the world.

As a person who loved Toni Morrison’s work and in essence loved her, it is my hope that her words and guidance continue to be cherished long after she has left us. She was legendary and had a beautiful mind. The next generation of writers, creators, and academics in general will have a hard time measuring up to the legacy that she left.

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