In Memoriam: Dr. Toni Morrison, 1931-2019

Today we acknowledge the passing of Dr. Toni Morrison. Dr. Morrison was the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. The author of 11 novels, children’s books, an opera, and critical essays, Dr. Morrison’s haunting, incisive book, Beloved, won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize. Her prose powerfully invoked both the awesome beauty and historical torment of Black womanhood in America.

Professor Morrison’s work bravely examined enslavement and its afterlives. Through The Bluest EyeSula, and Song of Solomon, she plunged readers headlong into a world where racism and poverty gestated addiction, sexual abuse, and murder. Yet these works also evidenced the richness, splendor, and resilience of Black women.

We revere Professor Morrison because she never shied away from condemning white supremacy. Her vital words during her interview with Charlie Rose in 1998, remain as relevant now as when she first declared them: “Don’t you understand that the people who do this thing, who practice racism, are bereft? There is something distorted about the psyche. It’s a huge waste, and it’s a corruption, and a distortion….What are you without racism? Are you any good? Are you still strong? Still smart? You still like yourself?….If you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a serious problem. And my feeling is, white people have a very, very serious problem. And they should start thinking about what they can do about it.” 

Essays such as Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination and her more recent, The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations, and The Origin of Others, remain instructive and liberatory.

We honor Dr. Morrison and we thank her for telling our stories with grace and dignity.