TONI MORRISON – February 18, 1931 — August 4, 2019
The first Toni Morrison novel I read was Tar Baby. At the time, it was considered to be a lesser work in her oeuvre because it was a love story. It was marketed as such — as it was about a black model and her ‘untameable’ Heathcliff-like paramour. My mother, who mostly read romance, had a copy of it, in among her stacks of Danielle Steele and Janet Dailey. I don’t think Mom enjoyed the book. She thought it was too weird.
I remember dipping into its pages and immediately being entranced by the language. It was dense, allusive, and mythic. It was also experimental, profane and erotic. It was a love story, yes, but it was also about decolonization and identity. The novel moved between contemporary scenes and the long, rich shadow of cultural history. Gods and goddess, both disguised and not, appeared in the text. Ghosts were both metaphorical and real.
Tar Baby was my first Morrison novel, but it was far from my last. The Bluest Eye brutally shows the horrors of a colonized mind. Sula made the lives of black women into an epic. Song of Solomon is a magical realist tone poem for the black gaze. And Beloved laid bare the profound evil of America’s past. Morrison used and shaped forms and language itself to create a black American literary cosmology. She was and remains a deep influence on my work, and indeed, on world literature at large.