Like many Americans, I have been mourning the loss of one of this generation’s most treasured literary greats – Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner, Toni Morrison. Simply put, she was influential, bold and fearless as a writer. Her vivid portrayals of African American culture, the harsh realities of racism and the lived experiences of people (mostly women) facing unthinkable traumas and societal barriers bore witness to a world painfully familiar to some, and yet beyond the consciousness of others.
I was first drawn to her unique style and prose in her first book, The Bluest Eye; mesmerized by its depiction of a young African American girl growing up in the post-Depression Midwest. Morrison’s work was published at an important period in American history; where equal rights and laws pertaining to African American people seemed to be advancing, and emerging contributions to black literature were truly transcendent and groundbreaking.
The meaning of her work also resonated with me as an educator. In the 1970s, I taught an interdisciplinary social studies and English class, in which we delved into Morrison’s works, along with those of other famous African American female writers. I learned about their backgrounds and came to embrace the power of family history in storytelling.
Over the course of my life, I have been blessed to have people share their personal and family stories and encourage me to tell mine. Toni Morrison inspired us all with stories that opened a window on the unique American human experience of her characters. Hers was a voice that seemed summoned from afar to challenge us to open our hearts to respond to our nation’s painful divides around race.
We need more voices like Toni Morrison’s to challenge our conscience during this period of growing division. We need more writers like Toni Morrison who truly believe in the power of the individual human experience, love, and compassion for others – and aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo!
In my own case as a writer, I have tried to apply the lessons learned from reading her work. As I prepare for the upcoming release of my second book this fall, Your Turn: Ways to Celebrate Life Through Storytelling, I wanted to share this quote from Morrison that explains how telling your story and truth is so important:
“Make up a story. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.”
How did Toni Morrison’s books affect your view of America, and which of her works had the greatest impact on you?
© Tyra Manning 2019