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I’ll never forget the moment I finished reading Sula by Toni Morrison.
I closed the book and then cried.
I cried at how beautifully the story was written, I cried at the powerful revelation Nel (one of the main protagonists) has at the end, and I cried out in relief. Relief that, for once, both black and female characters were shown in all their glory – and flaws – outside of the white male gaze.
Their sense of self was not created based on how white America perceived them, but on how they perceived themselves. And as a gay black writer born on the East Coast, that felt revolutionary to me.
“I’m writing for black people… in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old colored girl from Lorain, Ohio. I don’t have to apologize or consider myself limited because I don’t [write about white people] – which is not absolutely true, there are lots of white people in my books. The point is not having the white critic sit on your shoulder and approve it,” - Morrison told The Guardian.
Toni Morrison was the recipient of the 1977 National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon, 1988’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Beloved, and the Nobel Prize in Literature a few years later.
Morrison’s writing and characters have gone on to resonate with millions of readers across the globe of various races and ethnicities. Not to mention the generations of writers, like myself, that she has and will continue to inspire.
From her debut novel, The Bluest Eye, to her last, God Help The Child, Toni Morrison has vigorously and unapologetically encapsulated the human experience that so many Black Americans endure despite the masks we wear for society at large, which transformed American literature as we know it.
An enormous part of her legacy is the work she did to establish and extend the Black American literary canon, both in her own writing and in the work she did as an editor prior to having published her first novel.
Toni Morrison's Writing | Making Black America | PBS
Morrison leans into topics many would consider taboo and creates complex characters with raw psyches and emotions.
The authenticity, the rawness, and the brutal honesty touches you in a way I can’t even begin to try and type out or describe. All I can say is that after each Morrison novel I’ve read, I’m left both inspired and hungry for something else from her. Inspired to create characters that look like me, from worlds like mine, who are bigger than life, and unapogetically black.
“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it,” - Toni Morrison.
Her works force you to confront the ugly truths of society, the links to our brutal past, and the relationships forged because of a history we often would rather forget, then revisit.
"Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father’s baby that marigolds did not grow" - The Bluest Eye.
Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, Morrison has written is a work of literary art. However, we all have our favorites. Here are mine:
1.Song Of Solomon - “Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. As Morrison follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, she introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized Black world.”
2.Love - “In life, Bill Cosey enjoyed the affections of many women, who would do almost anything to gain his favor. In death his hold on them may be even stronger. Wife, daughter, granddaughter, employee, mistress: As Morrison’s protagonists stake their furious claim on Cosey’s memory and estate, using everything from intrigue to outright violence, she creates a work that is shrewd, funny, erotic, and heartwrenching.”
3.Paradise- “Starts with a horrifying scene of mass violence and chronicles its genesis in an all-black small town in rural Oklahoma. Founded by the descendants of freed slaves and survivors in exodus from a hostile world, the patriarchal community of Ruby is built on righteousness, rigidly enforced moral law, and fear. But seventeen miles away, another group of exiles has gathered in a promised land of their own. And it is upon these women in flight from death and despair that nine male citizens of Ruby will lay their pain, their terror, and their murderous rage.”
No matter which of her books catches your eye first, you’re bound to be in for an adventure that puts your emotions on a rollercoaster and introduces you to some of the most well-written and thought out characters.
Toni Morrison is one of the best American authors. Thanks to her, readers and writers across the world are inspired to speak their truths and stand fully in who they are and what they stand for; just like she did.
Thank you, Toni!