In Memory of Toni Morrison
It was with immense sadness that we learned of the death of Toni Morrison, one of the great writers of our time, on 5 August 2019, at the age of 88.
Morrison’s best-known work is probably Beloved (1987). This powerful book, set in the years immediately following the abolition of slavery in the US, is a landmark in modern writing. At the same time, it is deeply rooted in oral and literary traditions, drawing upon African folk tales, American slave narratives, African-American jazz and poetry, as well as modern writings by Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, James Baldwin, and more. She drew upon her great knowledge of literature, politics and history to create a remarkable range of novels and essays.
Her novels include The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Jazz (1992), and many others. She was also an important essayist, an influential editor, a great supporter of African-American writers, and an inspiration to writers and thinkers all over the world. Her wisdom and generosity will be sorely missed.
Bernadine Evaristo writes in her tribute to Morrison in the Guardian:
Morrison wanted her books to be readable but they were never simple, easy, cosy reads. The reader had to put in the work, especially from Beloved onwards. Her prose was beautifully rich, imagistic and sensorially immersive.
Many of us are sad at her passing but it’s time to reconnect to her work and to introduce a new generation of readers to it. She led a long, creative and celebrated life and her legacy will live on – through her literature, through her outspokenness in dignifying black experiences, and through the writers whose imaginations she fed and whose craft she developed by example. I remember hearing her advocate that writers imagine the unthinkable as a way to liberate the imagination. It struck a chord with me. Every time I start a new novel, I remember those words and ask myself: ‘What if?’
• Guardian obituary of Toni Morrison, 6 August 2019.
• Diane Abbott, ‘Toni Morrison’s Genius was the Inspiration of my Youth’, Guardian, 6 August 2019.
• Essay by Toni Morrison on memory, rpt in the Guardian, 8 August 2019.
• Bernadine Evaristo, ‘We Always Knew She was on Our Side’, Guardian, 10 August 2019.
• Irenosen Okojie, ‘Toni Morrison’s Gift Was to Make Black People Feel Seen’, Guardian, 10 August 2019.
• Tributes from several contemporary writers, Guardian, 11 August 2019.