I silently mourned the night Alfred A. Knopf tweeted about the death of Toni Morrison. The legendary black author passed away leaving us with so much grief and malaise and yet I knew she had left her world for me to discover.
Morrison was born in Ohio to working class parents. Her father was a welder, her mother a domestic worker. She graduated from Lorain High School with honors in 1949, carrying with her the love for European Literature. She then graduated from Howard in Literature and Classics and continued studying at Cornell till 1953. She married Harold in 1957 and had her first child also named Harold in 1961. Three years after the birth of her first son she sought separation from Harold during which she was pregnant with her second son, Slade. Slade died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 45 in 2010.
It’s reported that the single mother woke up at 4 am to write all the brilliant literature that we associate with her today. She got her first job at New York Publishing at the age of 36 and published her first book at 39.
Morrison’s novel “Beloved” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and shortly after made it to the big screen. While being a receiver of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, she was also the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 by the first black US president Barak Obama.
Her cultural impact as a black woman is why we celebrate and cherish her every day and will continue to do so. Her horrifyingly relatable take on love, relationships, career and emotional labor will never fail to not benumb me.
Here are Ten quotes from the woman who never fails to inspire me:
1. On power politics from a 2003 interview with O magazine
I tell my students, when you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.
2. On mansplaining from her novel “Beloved”
‘Well, if you want my opinion’-
‘I don’t’, She said. ‘I have my own’.
3. On love and emotional labor
Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you? You really want somebody like that? Somebody who falls apart when you walk out the door? You don’t, do you?
4. On freedom from Home
Look to yourself. You free. Nothing and nobody is obliged to save you but you. Seek your own land. You young and a woman and there’s serious limitation in both, but you are a person too. Don’t let… some trifling boyfriend and certainly no devil doctor decide who you are. That’s slavery. Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about. Locate her and let her do some good in the world.
5. On respect from God Help the Child
You don’t have to love me but you damn well have to respect me.
6.On love 1997 novel “Paradise”
Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God.
7. From Jazz, also on love
Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.
8. On freedom from Morrison’s 1970 novel The Bluest Eye
We mistook violence for passion, indolence for leisure, and thought recklessness was freedom
9. On self-love from Beloved
You are your best thing
10. On privilege from the Intro of Captivating Technology
All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.
Toni Morrison lived, loved and lost life as it came to her and it would be a shame to not recognize what she made out of it. Perhaps through her death we remember her and more importantly celebrate subject matters she deemed worthy.
Maryam’s a Communication and Design major and an English and Comparative Literature minor at Habib University. She thoroughly enjoys reading South Asian Literature and is a Partition Literature enthusiast, who is often found admiring the origins of cultural theory.
While one may occasionally find her at events catering to art and culture in Karachi, she would much rather be home binge-watching British comedy.
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