By Kia Thomas
The following piece was featured in the September 2019 edition of The Campus.
“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” – Beloved, 1987
On August 5th, 2019, the legendary writer, poet, playwright, and professor Toni Morrison took her ascent from our planet, joining the rest of our great ancestors.
In 1931, Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in an integrated neighborhood in Lorraine, Ohio. She attended Howard University to pursue writing and literature and received her master’s from Cornell University. She went on to become an editor at Random House, working for influential figures such as Toni Cade Bambara and Angela Davis. She began her writing career with The Bluest Eye, written in 1970. Her bibliography consists of novels, plays, children’s literature, and nonfiction books. Her most famous works include Beloved, Sula, Tar Baby and Song of Solomon.
Morrison is a mother to two sons: Slade Morrison, a painter and musician, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2010, and Harold Ford Morrison, an architect.
Like Morrison and many other black writers, I grew up on almost exclusively white literature. I’d heard her name and knew of her contributions to the world of literature, but I was busy fawning over authors who did not address me, did not look like me, and often, were racist in their works and personal lives. It did not take long for me to realize the incredible profoundness of her writing.
Nakyia, a writer based in Atlanta, cites Morrison as motivation for her writing. She said, “Toni is responsible for allowing me to fall in love with literature and realizing that my words alone are meditation.” At age fifteen, she read The Bluest Eye, a book that changed her life, “That book told the raw, uncomfortable truth about the journey to self-love and what it took our ancestors to experience (it)… That book was the start of a revolution in me, and it saved my life.” For Nakyia, Toni Morrison’s legacy is the reason she continues to write.
Doris Alvarez of Queens named Toni Morrison as her favorite author. Alvarez was also deeply impacted by The Bluest Eye. “I was too young to understand the themes, but I couldn’t put it down. I read it multiple times because I felt that there was always a little message or symbolism in each word,” she said.
Morrison opened Alvarez’s eyes to the nuances of racism in the United States. She said, “It impacted me because I began to wonder, how many other children have felt this? That if they looked ‘right’, they would be treated better? Colorism was also a theme in the book, and that’s how I learned about it.”
Alvarez, who is a writer in her free time, appreciated Morrison’s complexity as an author. “Her books opened my eyes. What impacted me was the way she wrote her characters. Each one was different; they were their own person and they didn’t fit into a box.” she said.
Morrison’s legacy lies in her ability to carve a path not only for herself, but for others. She pushed against all odds and made space for herself without asking for permission. Through the tragedy, shock, and mourning, what we have come to realize is the legacy of Toni Morrison, the words and ideas that still reverberate the minds, hearts, and spirits of people across the globe, will never die.