August 27, 2019

When Toni Morrison died on August 5, our world lost one of its greatest candid voices. Morrison, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, was not only a gifted writer and storyteller; her voice was the light that illuminated the untold, unacknowledged lives, trials, and triumphs of African Americans, and particularly girls and women.

Morrison’s profound voice accomplished powerful things. She opened the world at large to the compelling, heartbreaking and uplifting stories of black families, communities, and relationships. Her gift allowed everyone to embrace and see the value in these stories.

For me and for so many others, Toni Morrison was that first crack in the levee — the one who freed the truth about black lives, sending it rushing out into the world. ~ Michelle Obama, former first lady of the United States and author of Becoming, in an editorial for The Washington Post

She inspired a generation of black and female writers. At the time, Morrison was one of the only published black female authors and her books were considered a small subject for a select audience. Morrison’s books – so well-written and wholeheartedly embraced – paved the way for literature about African Americans to be featured and valued among broad, all-encompassing, mainstream audiences.

She gave us the permission of visibility; she said, as much with the fact of her body as with her stirring prose, that lives that had rarely been acknowledged in serious literature without ridicule or censure not only mattered but also were a central part of the Western story. ~ Esi Edugyan, author of Half-Blood Blues and Washington Black

Perhaps her greatest impact was among black girls and women. Morrison’s novels opened for them a way in which to see their own selves, and to find understanding, acceptance and pride.

Morrison had provided, through her characters, some of my earliest mirrors. And windows. In the lives of the people she brought to the page, I began to see parts of myself in the world — reflected, legitimized, loved. ~ Jacqueline Woodson, author of Harbor Me and Brown Girl Dreaming

Ultimately, she became the voice for generations of marginalized people. Her written work and her speeches brought truth and clarity to racism and gender roles. She called out injustices, using her words carefully and deliberately to inform and resist.

Oppressive language does more than represent violence, it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge, it limits knowledge. ~ Toni Morrison, in her 1993 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

Morrison will be long-remembered for her contributions as a writer and editor, not only for reframing an entire genre of literature, but also as an inspiration to generations, a motivation to writers, and a candid voice for equality.