Toni Morrison helped me become a black woman, much like the way my mom taught me to be a black woman. Toni’s literature opened the doors to the magical realm of fiction. I remember the first time I opened a Morrison piece of work; my 9 year old hands gripping the soft bound pages of Beloved. At 9, I was far too young for the content of Beloved, but my hungry desire for books had consumed all the fiction at my parents’ home.
Beloved. The first things that caught my attention were the names; Baby Suggs, Denver, Halle, Sethe. Toni Morrison opened my eyes to characters that did not have to be named Lauren or Ashley. Instead, these names had weight behind them. Beloved led my 9 year old self on a crazy and twisted ride. More than a ghost story, and instead a story of how fate brings people in and out of our lives, Beloved encourages the reader to think twice about every line and to search for the meaning behind each word.
“You want to fly, you have to give up the shit that weighs you down,” Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. Song of Solomon was my first indicator that folks could breastfeed past infancy. The shock was only momentary, as this piece of work has many shocking moments for a young child. While the plot was definitely too advanced for me to entirely grasp, I understood the main character, Milkman, as bogged down by so much. Gossip, legacy, expectation — it was all too much. The Song of Solomon was an early exploration of what it means to be yourself.
The Bluest Eye is the first novel that Morrison wrote. It’s a tender read on the all-too familiar topic of race and colorism. The novel tells the story of a young girl named Pecola. Pecola struggles with her identity due to her dark skin; she likes to wonder what life would be like with blue eyes. The Bluest Eye validated parts of me that were just beginning to feel the rejection of the world.
At only 9, Toni Morrison’s literature truly touched me. I sought out the comforting pages of Morrison’s work for most of my transition into a young woman and then finally into an adult. Toni Morrison wrote about black people, and black history, in a way that made us feel visible. While her themes are not PG, the message behind each one, self-discovery, is. I fell in love with Morrison the way one does with Maya Angelou — great words often uttered from painful experiences that would come to elucidate the experiences black Americans have.
Toni Morrison is a national treasure. She belongs in the halls of the greats, she deserves recognition for writing and creating such complex pieces in an unkind world. However, Toni Morrison is also a personal treasure. I am who I am because of Toni Morrison.
Do you have a favorite Toni Morrison quote or book? Comment below to share some gems!
The Juncture Mag staff