toni morrison: editor’s tribute
from Faculty Advisor, M. A. Vizsolyi:
On a recent call, while discussing the many wonderful submissions we received, the editors began to lament and grieve communally for the loss of Toni Morrison—a writer who it seemed had a profound and lasting impact on many of them. She certainly did for me, as well. I remember reading her novel, The Bluest Eye, as an undergraduate. It’s no stretch to say that that experience taught me a new kind of empathy, one that stayed with me and had a lasting impact on the person I’ve become. While some editors felt that their grief was too raw to write about now, here’s what two of editors had to say about the impact Toni Morrison had in their lives.
Goodnight Toni Morrison
by China Myers
I was a young teen who loved stories that revolved around mythology and magic. My high school English teacher, a creative storyteller, kept us engaged in Shakespearean lore by re-enacting imaginary scenarios about her adventures with William Shakespeare, and encouraged me to broaden my reading by handing me a copy of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. “There are many cultural myths to explore,” she said. In those pages, I found a downtrodden young man named Milkman Dead who had been oppressed by his father, Macon Dead, II. As Milkman grew into a man, he began to disconnect from his overbearing father, and wished for something more. He chose to journey from his home in Philadelphia to the South seeking riches and power, instead he found a transformational type of power that involved the act of listening and ancient ‘Griot’ stories of the African-born magic spoken by his great-grandfather, who was enslaved on a plantation. Morrison’s intricate story spoke of slaves who would use magic words to invoke flight, but when they escaped their horrid life, their victory dealt a selfish twist. The African myth of flight involved leaving behind loved ones—the cost of flight—for only a native of Africa could return home, anyone born on New World soil was left to tell the story. So within this freedom flight was separation, sadness, joy, and a realization of how one regards responsibility. Much more than a myth, my appreciation of this book’s message resonated later—much like the character in the book itself.
Morrison brought to life the rich heritage of African American tribulations and glory in all of her writing. Her bold women characters, refreshing and endearing became the fundamental pillar of her stories, as well as her poetic flair of writing. Goodnight Toni, and continue telling your stories in your new life.
by Anita Van de Ven
I was late to come to Toni Morrison. Of course, I have been aware of her for some time. Her work was on a list in the back of my mind, a list of necessary works to be read to feed my own writing. Having grown up in Europe, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of American literature, which at times feels like a hindrance, and at other times liberating.
My initial introduction to Morrison had more to do with her character than her writing. After her death, countless YouTube video’s of interviews made their way around the internet, as well as quotes and impressions of Morrison from other famous authors who had been lucky enough to meet her. She seemed to be someone who basked in her success. Someone who did not credit “the universe” with her multitude of awards. Something else that came up, was the question she was often asked about the “limitations” of writing about the Black experience. When was she going to step into the broader world of literature, and start writing about the rest of us—or more specifically, white people? The question was insulting, both the question of her ability to do so and the suggestion that the Black experience was somehow not worthy enough to dedicate a career to.
I am now halfway through Beloved. Upon reading the first paragraph, it became clear to me why this work is a classic, why it is celebrated. Her use of language is exquisite, the story is stirring and the subject matter deeply important. When listening to an interview with Terri Gross, Morrison spoke of her mother who had so beautiful a voice that people traveled far and wide to hear her sing at her local church. Morrison herself claimed that she can’t sing a note. But as Gross pointed out, her mother's musicality has not been lost—it shines through gloriously in her literature.
As a writer, I know that I will be drawing from Toni Morrison’s work and spirit for many years to come