A Tribute to Toni Morrison
Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President
Barak Obama. She won too many other awards and honors to list here, but equally as important to
her, was that she was a mother with two sons. Her son, Slade, also an artist, co-wrote children
books with her, died nine years ago from cancer. She was divorced from her architect husband
and so understood personal sadness. Her second son became an architect like his father. She
was a grandmother to three. Morrison did not have her first book published until she was 39 years
old. After being a senior editor at Random House for twenty years, she helped other writers get
their work published. Her example testifies that it is never too late to create work that is both
brilliant, as well as a commercial success.
Most readers know about her most popular novels, The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1974), Song of
Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981) and Beloved (1987). Beloved was made into a movie starring
Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey also put four of Morrison’s books in her book club. Morrison’s writings
spoke about the power and majesty of Black people and their resilience, from enslavement to
modern times, but also about our dysfunction. She included characters who wanted to be white,
others who could only express love through sex and still other characters who failed to overcome
the inhumanity of racism.
White people were largely absent from her work. She wrote luminously about African Americans
who were slaves, poor, uneducated and who mattered a great deal. While reading Toni Morrison’s
books, I felt that I was eating a fine meal that required a knife and a fork. I would read a chapter,
cutting it up into sections, for me to absorb and digest, before I would continue reading with
President Barak Obama said of her death, “Toni Morrison was a national treasure, a good a
storyteller, as captivating in person as she was on the page. Her writing was a beautiful,
meaningful challenge to our conscience and our moral imagination. What a gift to breathe the
same air as her, if only for a while.” Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka left in 2014, and now Toni
Morrison is gone in 2019. We grieve the loss of our elders’ wisdom as we await the breakthrough
of the new Black writers. We await the next generation who will tell our stories in the new
millennium and who will continue to help our people thrive through their written words of love and
I love reading Toni Morrison because of how she loves our African American people whole-heartedly and
that sentiment in present in every syllable. She wrote the truth about us, in fiction, essays, plays, and
children’s literature and even in song. Her words included our failures as individuals and as a race, yet
she wrote that truth with so much brilliance, so much bravery and so much love. You cannot read Toni
Morrison and not feel the care and concern she placed into every word. Her words live on in us, her
readers, although she died on August 5.
Toni Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in 1931 and she was 88 when she died. My son called
early in the morning to tell me that Toni Morrison had died, and I exclaimed, “She was too young and I
know she had more books in her.” When he reminded me that she was 88, I realized that her writings
made her perpetually young in my mind.
She was a Nobel Prize winning author of 10 novels, 7 non-fiction works, 2 plays, and 3 children’s books, a libretto for Margaret Garner, an American opera that
explores the tragedy of slavery through the true life story of one woman's experiences and an opera based on Shakespeare’s Othello's wife Desdemona and
her African nurse, Barbary, called Desdemona.