Her Pen Was Mighty Indeed: Remembering Toni Morrison

(February 18, 1931 — August 5, 2019)

“Toni Morrison : best-selling novelist, Noble Peace Prize winning writer, prolific speaker, talented storyteller…She was a Black, female creative who impacted the literary world in such a way that changed the default — of who stories and books were for and were about — Black folks.

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In her written work, she chose to define the world on her own terms and populate them with people, with women who looked like her, who looked like us. She’s an important writer to read for Black women, from my first (and life changing) reading of The Bluest Eye back in middle school to the later adult readings of Sula, Beloved and Song of Solomon and all her essays that serve as critiques on everything from race and class and gender — she’s been an force to be reckoned with, a sort of elder to behold, admire and cherish.

She served many roles during her time on this earth, and one that many forget is her job as editor. Lord knows how needed editors are in any capacity, especially, for writing and the publishing industry. It wasn’t until a few days ago when reading the late Lucille Clifton’s collection of poetry, The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965–2010 (American Poets Continuum) that I learned that Morrison edited Clifton’s first book of poetry — Generations. I learned more about their connection in the foreword that Morrison wrote:

“I edited a book by Lucille. Generations. The only prose, I believe, she ever wrote for publication. I was so pleased to be working with her because, although we knew each other briefly at Howard University, I had not seen her since then. The manuscript was impressive — honest, clear-eyed with a shapeliness natural to poets. During one of our conversations in my office she told me that she spoke fairly regularly to her deceased mother. “Really? How?” I asked. “Prayer?” “No,” she said. “Ouija Board.” I smiled, not with condescension, I hope, but with fascination. “What does she say?” “Many things,” she answered, “though she has no sense of time. She speaks of things past as though they were in the future. As in ‘you are going to have two beautiful daughters.’

I tell her I already have beautiful daughters.” Lucille continued, “But I get the impression she isn’t very interested in me. Once I asked her about something extremely important to me and she said, ‘Excuse me, I have to go. I have something to do.’” Something to do? I was mesmerized. The dead have active, curious, busy existences? Lucille assured me it seemed to be so. I was happy beyond belief to contemplate the afterlife that way. Not some static hymnal-singing, self-aggrandizing chorus, nor blank preconsciousness — but life otherwise.”

As with Maya Angelou, as with Ntozake Shange and now with Toni Morrison — may we consider them in the fashion of Lucille: they’re not gone. Not gone completely. May we speak to Toni with love and contentment of the world she has left but in which she yet still lingers. May we speak to Toni as we do Lucille Clifton, June Jordan, Octavia Butler, Gwendolyn Brooks and Lorraine Hansberry and all our literary gods in their infinite Blackness and female presenting bodies who left us incredible works to hold.

May we remember Toni and keep her alive. She left us on this earthly realm to meet and celebrate with the ancestors but I know here, we’ll always celebrate and honor her name and the legacy she’s left us.

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photo collage: Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. 📷Photo by Bettman/Corbis.

A version of this piece was previously published here alongside other tributes to Ms. Morrison.

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⭐️ Writer, Editor & Media Scholar with an affinity for red lipstick living in California. Writes about literature, art, cinema & amazing women. ⭐️

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