by G. Brown
“Beloved”, “Song of Solomon”, “God Help the Child” …author Toni Morrison wrote the words that both conveyed the harshness of reality and permeated it to stir the souls, awaken the mind and touch the hearts of readers.
On Monday night, Morrison completed the story of her life. She died in a New York hospital at the age of 88.
As word of her death spread on Tuesday, fans and celebs turned to social media to mourn and remember the woman who inspired generations.
She made me understand“writer” was a fine profession. I grew up wanting to be only her. Dinner with her was a night I will never forget. Rest, Queen. “Toni Morrison, seminal author who stirringly chronicled the Black American experience, dies” https://t.co/S6qxix5OCj
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) August 6, 2019
Toni Morrison was a towering intellect, a brilliant scribe of our nation’s complex stories, a heartbreaking journalist of our deepest desires, and a groundbreaking author who destroyed precepts, walls and those who dared underestimate her capacity. Rest well and in peace. pic.twitter.com/nMkxXRtEoz
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) August 6, 2019
Toni Morrison was a national treasure, as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page. Her writing was a beautiful, meaningful challenge to our conscience and our moral imagination. What a gift to breathe the same air as her, if only for a while. pic.twitter.com/JG7Jgu4p9t
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 6, 2019
“If you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” -Toni Morrison
Today we lost an American legend. May she rest in peace. https://t.co/DInZvd8stY
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 6, 2019
“If you look at the world as a brutal game, then you bump into the mystery of the tree-shaped scar. There seems to be such a thing as grace, such a thing as beauty, such a thing as harmony. All of which are wholly free and available to us.” Your life was our gift, #ToniMorrison pic.twitter.com/wcD7w9zKYp
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) August 6, 2019
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” Toni Morrison. I’m deeply sadden to share that one of our greatest writers and minds in American History, Toni Morrison, passed away at the age of 88. May God Bless Her Soul. pic.twitter.com/Dq1UL4ENIY
— COMMON (@common) August 6, 2019
“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.”
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon pic.twitter.com/QlJ3zB3rUK
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) August 6, 2019
Morrison was born in Ohio to working-class parents who struggled to raise their four children. Despite the hardships, Morrison says her parents taught her how to rise above life’s pain. When she was a toddler their landlord set fire to their home when they couldn’t pay the rent. Morrison says at one of the lowest points in their lives her family responded by laughing in the face of the man behind the cruelty and violence. It didn’t break them but made them stronger.
Morrison says along with a sense of integrity, her parents gave her a love of heritage, language and the merging of the two in ghost stories and folktales. The tales of her own life would start to take shape in 1949 as Morrison went off to college at Howard University. Morrison says for the first time she encountered Jim Crow laws as she discovered the color of her skin meant she could eat at certain restaurants or go into some stores.
In 1965, the now-divorced mother of two began working as an editor at Random House. Two years later she was promoted to the publisher’s first black woman senior editor in the fiction department where Morrison introduced the world to some of the greatest works of African American authors including “The Black Book” which documented lives of Blacks from slavery to the ’70s.
Absorbing and studying all the works of others instilled in Morrison a desire to share stories dwelling inside her. She says she woke up at four every morning to write her first novel, “The Bluest Eye”. It was met by a cold reception in the literary world, but Morrison was determined to continue her passion. Finally, her third novel “Song of Solomon” brought her national acclaim and would go on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award.
It would be another decade before Morrison would write her most celebrated work “Beloved” about love and the African-American experience. The book hovered on the best-seller list for 25 weeks. In 1998, the novel was adapted to a movie produced by Oprah Winfrey.
Morrison wore many hats in her lifetime, editor, essayist, novelist, professor emeritus at Princeton University. But for adoring fans, Morrison at her best was a history teacher who penned the pains of racism, sexism, and childhood into the pages that gave people the strength to endure.
Morrison lived life on the terms she set. She was as strong as the steel forged in the town she born in and as tender as the tears her works evoked. In the end, the words best suited for her epitaph are her own…
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” –Toni Morrison