Are there words for our Beloved Toni Morrison? Is the English language expansive enough to explain and encompass her depth? It wasn’t when countless others died. Toni Morrison made words move. She breathed life into them, and those words, her words moved our souls. I can not shape and pull the English language in her masterful way. This tribute is heartfelt, yet inadequate because today, language fails me.
My Introduction to Toni Morrison
My mom is an avid reader of all things, people, and genres. She’s read everything from Steven King to Jean Toomer, to Maya Angelou to Terry McMillan to Toni Morrison. Yes, before you ask my name is indeed courtesy of Karintha by Jean Toomer. At any rate, I thought I had a firm handle on black authors. I even had the nerve to think my mother had given me a deep love and appreciation of said authors by osmosis. She hadn’t what she gave was the foundation.
It’s appropriate that I fell madly, deeply in love with Toni Morrison’s mastery of language while attending Howard University. Maybe it was because I was sitting in classrooms or walking in spaces she’d walked before me, but somehow her words took on a life all of their own. They were the same words I’d read many times before. Words that I used with audacity in my little sentences thinking myself a writer, and hilariously a poet. On Howard’s campus, Toni Morrison’s words vibrated with a rhythm and heartbeat of their own. Like their writer, they made no apology for being everything. Your feelings were just that your feelings and none of her words’ business. There is a richness and vividness to her words that evokes power.
The glow up and appreciation of Toni Morrison
I remember sitting in class fuming because I couldn’t do a term paper on the writings of the Great One. Truthfully, I’m still a little salty about it. My professor who shall remain nameless, was right. I didn’t have the grit, or life experience I needed to even say Toni Morrison’s name much less call myself trying to discuss and interpret her writings. That’s not exactly how my professor put it, but that was the gist. I think her actual commentary was, I and therefore my writing seemed a little too sheltered to give a subject with the depth of Toni Morrison adequate examination.
Not that I feel some way or still have her commentary memorized. It was the truth. At that point in my life I might’ve been hard pressed to explain why a woman born Chloe Wofford would call herself Toni. I could not have waxed poetically about any of her poetry or novels.
Yes, I’ve lived a little, loved, survived and come through the other side I’m still not grown enough or masterful enough to speak on the writings of the Queen. This is a dissertation of her greatest works. There is not a greatest because her writing is great. Every facet, every syllable grabs your soul and refuses to let go until your eyes fall on the next few words.
She was the voice of our culture and experience
In every way, she is the epitome of all things Howard. A true Howard girl who became a Howard woman. She found love at the Mecca. If they put a picture of her on a flyer and declared Howard will bring out the Toni Morrison in you, it wouldn’t be a stretch. It’s easy to believe that the best of you could find the air to soar on the Hilltop where Chloe became Toni Morrison.
Newsweek declared her Black Magic decades before Black Girl Magic became a thing. Toni Morrison was the defiant spirit who refuses to settle for mediocre so in an effort to make a better condition she uses her gifts to move our brothers and sisters. She was regal and strong with the depth and complexity of the universe. She was and is everything a Howard Bison is and then some.
Though I never met her, I’m certain there was a grace and softness to her that reserved for her dear ones and beloveds. My favorite pictures of Toni Morrison are of her laughing. Usually, she’s pictured with a light smile or looking stern. I love those too because it reminds me of my grandmother. Still, the pictures of her laughing especially the few with head thrown back in sheer glee make my heart leap with joy. I can almost hear her laughing at the trials and tribulations of love with one of her dear ones and then saying,
Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.
In my head she gave the best advice. How could she speak with authority, teach people to be their full selves, and give words life and give less than stellar advice? Something tells me she was trash talking high fiving spades or whist player. You know she fired off quotable quips quotable quips at leisure while giving advice, laughing, and enjoying life.
Toni Morrison was the soul of black creatives
She was us in every way. I think the humanity of her writing is why so many of my friends and colleagues today are at a loss. Toni Morrison was a thread in the tapestry of life. That thread connected us inexplicably. This morning the first post I saw on the gram was a picture of her with a quote. I kept scrolling making a mental note to read it later. That’s usually what I do when I see Naima‘s posts. I need time to cackle, or chat with her, or do the dance of joy for her latest dope thing so I put her in the double back pile. Before I could double back Jamilah Lemieux posted. When I saw her post without reading a word I knew. It felt like something in me snapped. Instantly every word I thought I knew flew out of my head.
The unspeakable goodbye
Naima and Jamilah were able to gather their words, and synapses to pen eloquent posts. Most of us, the mere mortals of us, who dare call ourselves creatives were lost, broken, wounded. I saw countless posts from people saying they couldn’t find the words to describe what Toni Morrison meant to us.
In a way it felt like she was immortal. If anyway was ever capable of defying death it would’ve been her. Literally everyone and their grandmother seemed struck by the transition of Toni Morrison. Gabrielle Union‘s thoughts resonated with me. She found the words that escaped me this morning.
What do you say about the keeper of the words and vibes of a people when the keeper becomes part of infinity? Maybe you don’t say anything in that moment. It’s ok to take a moment and breathe it all in, to sort yourself and find your balance. Selfishly I thought and said to a friend but what do we do now that our greatest lights are gone?
We need their balm of words and their strength to navigate these difficult times. Before she could answer I felt a shift. It was like I heard the words are yours now, we left you plenty and now it’s time for you all to link arms and use the words to give people peace, hope. It’s up to this generation we leave behind to explain and define our experience. My words, Maya’s and all the rest will still be there to guide you, but you can do this. Make no apology about your convictions, be strong in voice, love with abandon, and use the words.
Quoting Toni Morrison
She had a quote fore every feeling and experience. Whatever the need or occasion she had something to soothe or uplift your soul. All day I’ve had three of her quotes on repeat in my head. The first one has actually been in my head for a few days because of the current climate of hateful racism and division.
If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, you have a serious problem.
Up next is my hands down favorite Toni Morrison quote. It’s from the Song of Solomon.
If you wanna fly, you gotta give up the thing that weighs you down.
We often clip our wings and give up our power to soar. It’s easy to let human experiences and excuses weigh down. it seems simple but in reality it’s just a choice. Hold on to the crap weighing you down or let go and soar.
We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.
Indeed it was, it is, and will always be. I’m thankful, that I had the pleasure of basking in the sunshine and warmth of her words. Toni Morrison is still the best of us. She is our voice, our light, and our truth. You and your candor will be missed, rest well-beloved.