Our Words Really Matter…Lessons from Toni Morrison
I finally found sacred moments alone to cry over the loss of a literary friend. Death will come to all of us, this I have learned. Knowing this does not diminish the pain of knowing that loss is real and inevitable. I will miss this literary Shero.
The world loss Toni Morrison this week. A woman whose books have played such an important role in being comfortable to write in the only way I know how — from my mind and my heart. This woman whose words have affected many people from different walks in life is now walking with the ancestors.
WE MUST WRITE
If we simply look at the loss of African American writers who are no longer physically among us, the message is clear. Time is passing and we are losing voices that were inclined to write, even though they were African American. Last year we lost Hugh Masekela, Les Payne, Olly Wilson, James Hal Cone, Randy Weston, Rashod Ollison, Ntozake Shange, and Roy Taliaferro. All of the aforementioned people of color passed away in 2018 alone. Authors, composers, theologians, and sportscasters — each of these people proved that words matter and African Americans have made a difference in the landscape of the world via their words.
As we know, each of us has a story. The African American voice has not been widely known, shared, or appreciated. Consider the required readings in the elementary, middle school or even high school years for many of us. There were African American novelists, historians and they wrote words that mattered. We were not, however, introduced to their works as “required readings”. Well maybe — during Black History Month. (A MONTH?)
For many of us, any writings by African Americans that we wanted to explore meant feeding the inquisitive mind with a trip to the library and digging. Digging for information from a referenced name, which led to another referenced name and then the question — WHY? Why had we not been introduced to the words and work of these people in school? Why were these words not considered a part of our formative education like Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, or John Steinbeck? I read the works from these and other authors, who were not African American. We were taught that these people represented literature at it’s finest. We were taught that we should write like them. However esteemed they were, they did speak like me or look like me. Yes — this can make a difference in what we read, how we interpret the written word, and what is considered acceptable.
The experiences shared in the stories told by our ancestors are the threads that have created the fabric of who we are. Let’s just think about the history and stories shared at family reunions. African Americans are a proud people who have a partially shared history with a unique perspective. Whether it is about gardens, travel, child-rearing, sports or history, we need to speak on it, write about it and by any means necessary — share our words in our own voice. As the Elders ascend, who will write in the absence of our voice if we do not?
As a seamstress, I know that fabric left to sit unused, will weaken and eventually disintegrate. If we do not share our authentic voice now, our words will no longer matter in the future. We cannot let the fabric, the words, of our existence sit and disappear over time.
Our history has not been fully told in our voice. If it had, perhaps the world might be a more tolerant place. The African American voice, as well as our words, needs to be unleashed. We should not be ashamed of our experiences, our perception in life or our imperfections. To my knowledge, perfection is relative, no one is going to like everything we say or do — including how we write. After all, after years of assimilating, our mental expression of our experience will inevitably be different than most.
“I get angry about things, then go on and work”... Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s life taught us a few lessons. For women, being a single mom is no excuse to fulfill your passions and write abut them. At 39, the novel “The Bluest Eye” was written by Toni Morrison. A single mother of two sons and a divorcee did not stop the words from flowing onto the paper. Rising early to write allowed Toni to pen the words that won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988. One thing to note — NOT the Black Pulitzer Prize and NOT the Black American Book Award. Toni Morrison achieved these awards and was noticed because she wrote from her heart and mind. I smile as I imagine these judges were quite shocked that this African Amerian woman, a single mom, and editor could write and had something to say.
In a 2012 interview with The Guardian’s reporter, Emma Brockes, Toni shared a philosophy taught to her by her parents. They taught her to never fall in despair and in spite of it all, laugh in the face of evil. Each of us needs to embrace the latter thought, especially today.
Even after losing a child, Toni Morrison went about her work and left a unique legacy, all by using the written word. In her lifetime, just a few of her achievements other than raising two sons as a single mother include being a college professor, Editor at Random House Publishing, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Nobel Prize in Literature, National Humanities Medal, Pell Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, NAACP Imag Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award. As late as 2016, Toni Morrison was announced as the Charles Eliot Norton Profesor of Poetry at Harvard.
Her gender, race, nor her age excused Toni Morrison from being Toni Morrison.
WRITING FROM WITHIN
“You’re all you’ve got” …Toni Morrison
We need to write, as Toni Morrison did and write from within. Our life experiences, as well as the experiences, shared from our ancestors, have a purpose. Each experience is held deep within our heart and mind. Unleashing these experiences will allow us to creatively express our story, our passion and most importantly our truth. Whether in the form of a novella, a novel, a blog or an ebook — we need to write from within.
The loss of such a voice that meant so much to me hurts deeply. Knowing that in mid-life, Toni Morrison wrote from within, inspired me at 50 to start blogging about all things beautiful. Toni shed light on the reason why we must write, at any age, in spite of our station in life, or our experience. I realized that I had a voice from my life experiences and the lack of seeing people like me writing abut gardens, nature and all things beautiful. Sharing my words of all things beautiful in life and gardening just might inspire another person of color to write. Writing through the joy, pain, and the beauty of life as I experience it just might give someone else permission to write. If we write, from our unique perspective as African American’s, perhaps the younger generation will see someone that looks like them. Perhaps, this will inspire another African American to write in their own unique way. Writing perfectly or imperfectly, just writing is such a great way to revive the spirit, refresh the soul and be about the work of writing our story, as only we can.
Chloe Ardelia Wofford has left our physical midst forever. As she walks amidst the Elders, we will miss her next story and her next interview. As we mourn Toni Morrison, we should be inclined to honor her journey and be inspired to write.