For Toni Morrison (1931-2019)

In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. and all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize. 

 Toni Morrison, Beloved

I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked [James] Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don’t know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That’s what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say ‘people,’ that’s what I mean.  

Toni Morrison

Is there no context for our lives? No song, no literature, no poem full of vitamins, no history connected to experience that you can pass along to help us start strong? You are an adult. The old one, the wise one. Stop thinking about saving your face. Think of our lives and tell us your particularized world. Make up a story. Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created. We will not blame you if your reach exceeds your grasp; if love so ignites your words they go down in flames and nothing is left but their scald. Or if, with the reticence of a surgeon’s hands, your words suture only the places where blood might flow. We know you can never do it properly – once and for all. Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul. You, old woman, blessed with blindness, can speak the language that tells us what only language can: how to see without pictures. Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation. 

Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993

It is so difficult to convey the words of a writer who mastered them, and spoke them, wrote them, from the place of where she lived, and the place of her parents, grandparents, and that of “her people”; a place of horrific violence, racist and sexist, that destroyed whole communities, families and individuals. Yet this place was also one of great resilience, courage and resistance, of love. And thus Toni Morrison told the stories of the most silenced of america.

Her writing speaks for itself; it speaks from a place and a time (reminding us, perhaps, that all creativity demands such roots) and it speaks in a density, lushness and beauty that often overwhelms, yet never leaves one dumb. Her language, with at times brutal simplicity, unmasked what no one wished or wishes to see.

And from today on, we will only be able to read her, or listen to her recorded voice and image.

There are those who may judge the consensus about her importance as a writer as problematic; somehow proof that she is a writer of the “establishment”, an african-american liberal, a black tempest in a white tea-pot that is finally manageable. But such a judgement is more than foolish, for it takes the surface for the depths.

Angela Davis rightly describes her “as a revolutionary political thinker, who used her gift to change the world.” And a revolutionary is not to be judged exclusively by the flag that they carry, or the fleeting political allegiances that they may fall prey to. Toni Morrison, her writing, was much more than all of this.

“In her presence, whether on the page or in person, we understood the world was large and it was ours, to enter, to comment upon, to write about, to shape, mold and change. In her presence her brilliance was as apparent as it was capacious and inviting. She did not condescend to her readers or her friends; she was utterly confident of her own capacity and of ours.” (New York Times)

Video of Toni Morrison …

Poetry by Toni Morrison …

Eve Remembering 


I tore from a limb fruit that had lost its green.
My hands were warmed by the heat of an apple
Fire red and humming.
I bit sweet power to the core.
How can I say what it was like?
The taste! The taste undid my eyes
And led me far from the gardens planted for a child
To wildernesses deeper than any master’s call.


Now these cool hands guide what they once caressed;
Lips forget what they have kissed.
My eyes now pool their light
Better the summit to see.


I would do it all over again:
Be the harbor and set the sail,
Loose the breeze and harness the gale,
Cherish the harvest of what I have been.
Better the summit to scale.
Better the summit to be.

(The Believer)

Toni Morrison obituary in The Guardian.

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