Remembering Toni Morrison, 1931–2019

By Lo I. Wed, August 7, 2019

When I first read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, at 15 years old, I knew it would haunt me. The story fed my soul—I was shocked at its lovely, yet stinging taste, but realized I had always been craving it. Never had my struggle with society’s portrayal of white beauty and embedded racism been described so well. With a writing style that’s mixed with violence, beauty, and tragedy, Morrison captured chaotic emotions and pulled back their layers.  

Upon hearing about Morrison’s death, I closed my eyes, unsettled at the thought of a world without her.

But, she will never be completely gone.

Morrison’s legacy includes children’s books, essays, and 11 novels. She visited the Free Library no less than 5 times between the years 1996–2015 (you can find and listen to these conversations in our Author Events podcast archive). You can view her appearance from 2015, discussing her then-newest book God Help the Child, on our Author Events YouTube channel

She was the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, cementing her place in history. Her most well-known novel is Beloved, a powerful story that explores the terrible marks of slavery and its losses, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Song of Solomon, one of my other favorite works by Morrison, is a unique coming-of-age story that explores how the past clings to the present, the actions of ancestors hovering over their descendants. Once you read her work, the language and themes will stay with you, calling you back—and you will never be able to resist revisiting them.

Dissecting the dark underside of American society and human nature, Morrison’s fiction moves through time and transforms in ways that mirror dreams—unpredictable and hazy, yet revealing truths that are discovered in the fog. Sometimes playing with our idea of reality, she will introduce ghosts or magic, warping our understanding of the world she’s created. Much of her work explores the weight of history, especially slavery and racism, and how it results in the present-day. Despite the poetic and lovely quality of her writing, Morrison’s stories depict violence, sexual assault, murder, and more, in great detail. In other words, there is beauty in the world, but there can also be deep ugliness.

Morrison’s analyses of race, family, history, and identity focus on how the consequences of history are passed onto the following generations. She championed independence and never hesitated to speak out against wrongs. Her work has made a meteor-like impact, changing the literary world and offering a powerful voice for the African-American community. She may have passed away, but her legacy will remain, inspiring and enlightening many generations to come.

As she said during her Nobel Prize lecture in 1993:

"We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives."

Thank you, Toni Morrison. Your words will carry on, for many years to come.

Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison, during the time she had written her first novel, <i>The Bluest Eye</i>
Toni Morrison, during the time she had written her first novel, The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison receiving the Presidental Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2012
Toni Morrison receiving the Presidental Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2012

Comments

RIP Ms. Morrison. Thank you for your words.
Jamie - Philadelphia Wed, August 07, 2019
Toni Morrison had a significant impact on my life with her words. She will forever be missed. Great post!
Camille - East Oak Lane - Philadelphia Thu, August 08, 2019
Author Toni Morrison was a great and talented Professor, writer great story teller, her work will live this us for years to come. I'm glad that I was introduced to Toni Morrison books.
Donald N. Abdur-Rasheed - Philadelphia Tue, August 13, 2019
Rest in Peace Educator Morrison! May your family and admirers be comforted by your achievements.
el boogie - Philadelphia Tue, August 13, 2019
forever missing you. You were such a quiet storm. rest in glory.
michele y. bryant - philadelphia Wed, August 14, 2019
May you forever RISE IN POWER. Ase. xoxo
Kay N. Dee - Philly Wed, August 14, 2019
May she rest in peace ,with the Angelic Angels around her.
Bro Seth Wed, August 14, 2019
Regretfully, I'm reading Beloved for the first time now. Pure genius. Thankfully, I'm reading Beloved now. We are all at a loss with Morrison's passing. RIP...
Daniel Rosenak - Philadelphia Fri, August 16, 2019
I remember the movie " beloved" it was so spiritual powerful it brought me back as a child growing up in south Carolina .
Timothy Moore ( Muphasa ) - Philadelphia Fri, August 16, 2019
Quite unfortunate! May God grant her survivors the fortitude to bear their irreplaceable loss!!
Anthony Ali - Philadelphia Sat, August 17, 2019
As a youth I was drawn to writing and won many prizes in school because of my encounters with the literary genius of Toni Morrison. RIP my hero
T Gulley-Cherry - NJ Sat, August 17, 2019

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