Vale Toni Morrison

Pioneering, Transformative, Giant

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Words || Angelica Ojinnaka

A few weeks ago, we said farewell to one of Literature’s finest. Toni Morrison peacefully passed away on the 5th August, at the age of 88. Many people’s hearts have been swollen by the intensity and power of her novella, none more so than black women and the black community collectively. Books woven with imagination and inspiration, Morrison’s words challenged the ideas of being black in black-hating and slavery-embracing world; where black and race centred novella were in arrears.

Her words have become instrumental to the way humanity is comprehended and conceptualised. Sharp and riveting, every book and every speech could make you collapse into pieces. But you would never be left shattered and helpless. Rebirthed from hope and recovering from sufferings, readers would uncover new self-discernment. Her writing was never intended for obvious and mediocre analysis; her work was intentional, and her messages at times were imperceptible.

Toni Morrison championed a cultural change in American history and the world together.  Race, identity, trauma, multiculturalism, racial tensions and violence. She tapped into the locked black boxes of these topics and opened truths about the treatment of black/blak people everywhere till today. In all honesty, we are all not worthy of the shear generosity that Toni Morrison’s work produced in shaping our community.

Toni Morrison was born in Ohio, 1931. In 1953, Morrison became a graduate of historically black Howard University (one of many great HBCUs), graduating with a B.A. (English) followed by a Masters at Cornell University. Following on from her educational feats, she went on to become one of Random House (American book publisher) editors.

Toni Morrison became the first black (African-American) woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature in 1993. By this time, she had already written several novels, all of which included themes of love, bigotry and hatred, sadness, suffering and complete joy. Most significantly, Toni Morrison absorbed racial struggles. She made the conversation difficult and but also humbling. Challenging to comprehend, but also rewarding when you could decipher the situation in her writings.

Really, her books speak for themselves and one superpower of her literature is to evoke raw, intense emotions. I read Beloved in Year 9. A volatile year to say the least. I remember reading Beloved and sitting there crying at how my young world view had changed, renovating my view of writing and emotional expression in the face of adverse trauma.

“Every homely black girl didn’t exist in Literature; and I was eager to read a story where racism really hurts and can destroy you”

Toni Morrison was so poised in her language and her speech, even when you could tell that her inner being wanted to lunge at those who would ask her such brazen questions on race. One of these questions was on whether she would ever write and incorporate the lives of white people into her novels. This question was to suggest that she has not “made it yet” unless she writes about white people. Her ability to shut down such racist infused commentary or questions, taught me a lot about how to steady myself against racism. To not give in if people see me as lesser in achievement or intelligence because of my skin. She created all of this in an era where black and blak women we considered only as reproduction machines and not as humans’ worthy of seeing our beauty. Many would say the Toni Morrison was like an Aunty and mentor that thought I had never spoken to, she certainly spoke into me.

In Australia, we are currently living amongst communities riddled with racism.

If this was your first-time hearing about Toni Morrison and her significant contributions to the black community and all who face encounter racism, I would highly recommend you read one of her novels. Let this final quote of Morrison’s truly sink into your mind – meditate on what it means for you:

“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else.”