I would always laugh when my students would call me by one of my nicknames or refer to me as “Auntie”or “Ma”. I loved that they wanted to establish our relationship connection beyond my role as their teacher. So because of them I was very comfortable adopting Toni Morrison and James Baldwin as my “literary godparents”. (I have a framed picture of them in my home.) So last month Godmother Morrison celebrated her 86th birthday. I had to take a moment to realize that she is approaching her ninth decade! What a blessing her life and genius continues to be to us. In fact this year, the United Nations is honoring her contributions in the annual International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade with this year’s theme being: Remembering Slavery: Recognising the Legacy and Contributions of People of African Descent. (See more here)
Toni Morrison epitomizes genius and she awakened in me a deep love for Black literature. When I read Song of Solomon I knew that Morrison and her writing were something special. In all of her works she revealed aspects of Black life and psycho-emotional insights that I had never come across before. When I read her work I know that she knows what it means to be a Black woman and just because she is but rather because her words express a collective knowing; a deep understanding.
Her novels center black women and her stories reveal the complexity of that experience in this country. As she prepares to release her 12th novel, Morrison’s body of work to date is rich with themes and perspectives that should be a part of any well-rounded education. Her debut novel, Bluest Eye (1970) revolves around the life of a a little black girl Pecola and her desire to achieve the ultimate mark of whiteness, blue eyes. Morrison discusses her choices in writing this novel and giving importance to perhaps the most overlooked member of American society.
In both Sula (1973) and Song of Solomon (1977), she explores issues of identity in the context of family and community and the power of friendship. Her 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning work, Beloved is probably one of the most important works ever written about the experience of slavery and its impact on the human psyche. Inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner, this text should be required reading in every American History and American Literature course throughout our nation’s secondary schools.
Morrison’s most recent work, God Help the Child (2015), again centers a black female child and her experience of rejection because of her strikingly dark and beautiful complexion. She offers us another opportunity with this text to explore the concepts of beauty in the context of a society the privileges whiteness as the standard. More importantly, Morrison asks us to consider the trauma and damaging effects of racism, colorism and the self-hatred that they inspire.
If you have not read any or some of the texts listed here, I urge you to “treat yo shelf” and add them to your personal library. Toni Morrison’s writing plays an important part in helping us understand the beauty, pain and complexity of the Black experience in America. To know and experience her writing for yourself and with your students is well worth it.
Peace and love good people.
Please like, comment and remember sharing is caring!