There are favorite teachers we will never meet.
In 8th grade, my favorite English teacher assigned us Toni Morrison’s Sula. I have always loved reading so it was no thing to jump into the book. But once I was on those pages, those words mesmerized me, engulfed me and hugged me. It was probably one of the few times I didn’t procrastinate til the last minute to write that book report. Ever since then, I re-visit that book, as a reminder that we all have a purpose, even the worst of us have the best of reasons for being on this plane.
I started blogging in 2003, as a college student ranting about her random undergrad adventures. Blogging took on a life of its own for me, but writing gave me voice even when I thought no one was listening. But I didn’t call myself a writer until 2012, 9 years after I started. For me, the word “writer” was too sacred, and I didn’t feel like I measured up to something that someone like Toni Morrison would use to describe herself. I didn’t feel like I had earned a title that people used for Ms. Morrison. We ain’t in the same stratosphere, yet club.
But we were. And had I been listening and absorbing her words, right, I would have known that. Because: Toni’s words gave freedom to Black girls and women to be who they want to be, and step into the world as who they are. Toni’s works teach us to be freer. Finally, she gave me the freedom to be who God purposed me to be.
I can be courageous with my words, because this giant wielded a sword with hers. Her words were convicting, consoling and curing. She treated us like grownups and trusted us with those letters to do as we wanted.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must write it.” Ms. Toni told us that, and who am I not to listen? That quote appears on page 2 of my debut book (I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual). Her words have literally been life’s instructions for me. I took them to heart.
Toni Morrison was unabashedly a truthteller. Beyond her works, her interviews showed how this woman dropped words to challenge a world that didn’t check itself often. That bass in her voice wasn’t just to make words sing on paper, but to make your chest quake when she dropped a truth, like her piece on the function of racism. Every interview was a masterclass.
I, for one, count myself as fortunate to live in the space and time where Toni Morrison existed, was celebrated and revered. I never got to meet her or hear her speak live, but that would have been a bonus. I feel content because what more do I need from the woman who gave me permission to be myself, and to follow the crooked purpose of wordsmithing.
In the moments when I feel lazy or when I wonder whether words matter, all I need to do is pull up a Morrison prose. All I need to do is recall how Sula feels like a person I know. All I need to do is read something about how Song of Solomon gave someone wings.
Do words matter? Toni Morrison’s life and legacy is uncompromising proof that words don’t just matter, but they breathe, and sing, and soar. And those of us who write must write loudly, to the rafters. The stages we’re given are temporary but what we say into those mics could be forever.
Toni taught me that you can be Black, you can be a woman, you can be gifted, and you can be celebrated and receive your roses while you are still here.
Toni Morrison. First of Her Name. Architect of Words. Acclaimed Author. Teller of Truths. Shifter of Culture. Netter of Nobel Prize. Writing Domino. Legendary Laureate. The People’s Professor.
She’s gone but her words are immortal. Long may her work reign. We hail you, Queen. 88 years on this Earth and your work is done but your impact is just beginning. That is a life well-lived. May we all use our gifts to light up the world.
Thank you, Toni, for affirming this Black girl.
The world is less brilliant today, but the world is more than lucky to have had you. Rest in peace and power.