A cherished friend just called me to be the one to tell me that Toni Morrison has died.
For half a century she has given us book after book after book filled with characters who don’t always succeed but who never lose humanity.
For half a century she has helped me understand what being enslaved FEELS LIKE because her enormous talent in putting one word in union with another word makes it impossible for me get away.
For half a century she has refused to blink at what has and has not happened to make life different for black Americans trying to figure out how to manage the legacy of enslavement by whites who continued to participate directly and indirectly in the systematic denial of full humanity to other humans.
For half a century she has persisted in asserting the powerful resilience of black women, men, and children by creating characters who do not always behave beautifully but who never become two-dimensional stereotypes.
For half a century she has assumed that I as a devoted reader of her work will expend however much mental and emotional effort it takes to comprehend as much of her subject matter and affect as I can.
For half a century she has helped younger writers of all stripes but particularly writers of color find places to put their own words and people to support them as they do that, always making them feel that they matter, that she, the literary giant, still has to struggle to get the next sentence or scene to be closer and closer to how she originally conceives of it.
I am bereft and yet I understand that Toni Morrison doesn’t want me to stagnate in my grief, since like other privileged emotions grief finally paralyzes me. I can’t take down one of her treasured books if I’m weeping inconsolably. So I will let myself weep and then begin to feel a gratitude that surely will grow as I come to grasp more fully that this incredibly important woman is no longer sitting somewhere breathing the same basic air I am breathing today. That gratitude is for the work that can only continue to enliven my life.