Every one of Toni Morrison’s works was a powerhouse. Whether you began with “The Bluest Eye” in freshman year, or sought her out on your own, every book, every essay, every poem, was a transformative experience. She had a power over words, and over narrative, that was unmatched by anyone. Morrison’s ability to tell a seemingly untellable, unapproachable story and make you see every glimmer of truth in it, was revolutionary.
Not only was she a powerful voice from the Black community, telling stories that would otherwise go untold, but the intricacy and depth of her prose ensured that that voice was one that would be heard. Reading Pecola Breedlove’s story at fourteen was something like drowning–finding yourself immersed in a world that was equal parts incomprehensibly outlined in tragedy, and recognizing the representations of adolescence, race, girlhood, and class. Her work is crucial to every curriculum it belongs to (and to many it is lacking from) because of the unforgettable lessons to be learned from it, particularly in an academic and literary world so committed to teaching the human experience as a singular story.
Perhaps that is why her passing is so shocking. A woman with such an immense storytelling ability seemed almost immortal. In my sophomore year, I read “Song of Solomon” after having read several of her other books and essays. By then I thought I’d grasped the idea that some things that we read will fundamentally alter the way we view the world, and the way we relate to it. I didn’t expect it to happen over and over again as I read her work. Toni Morrison, in an interview with New York Times contributer, Roxane Gay, said that what she most admired about her own work was her ability to “say more, and write less.” That, I think, is the most adept way of describing her immense talent. Her characterization, her descriptions of desolation, both in houses and in women, her unfailing commitment to truth; it echoes long after you finish reading her work. After finishing “Song of Solomon”, I walked around in a sort of daze for a few hours, stunned by the depth of the work and the hold it had on me.
That is what is at the core of Toni Morrison’s legacy: the ability to move people, time and time again, with every book, with every re-reading. There are very few writers who can teach and evoke such a powerful empathy from their readers, and even fewer who can put words to such complex narratives; and Morrison’s work will live on as a brilliant, crowning example of both.