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Toni Morrison: The Favorite Teacher I Never Met

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison (Photo by Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images)

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.

toni morrison sula

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

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.

I read this tribute to Toni Morrison as a special bonus episode of Rants & Randomness. If you’d like to listen, you can click play on the web player below:

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  1. August 6, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    No, I never heard of Toni until now but I always looked up to your writing, posts and stories. You write differently and it resonates the truth I want to hear and I would like to write someday. Although, I have not read any of Toni’s I have read yours and I can only imagine what the writer’s writer has in stock so I am going to grab me a book from her many awesome books today. Thanks for writing and I hope one day my blog writing would grow into a book. On that day I would not forget to acknowledge you. Thanks Luvvie. You type is rare.

    • Z
      August 7, 2019 at 7:36 am

      Wow…you should look up Ms.Toni Morrison and learn more about her and her work. She was a great woman.

  2. Alexis
    August 6, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    Love this! Thank you for sharing this tribute

  3. August 6, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    Thank you so much for this well-written piece! You literally took everything and then some out of my mouth about who this woman was to me as a young black female writer. RIP Toni Morrison my literary shero!

  4. Sade
    August 7, 2019 at 12:05 am

    Beautifully written! I’m sure she would be proud. Rest In Peace Ms. Toni Morrison.

  5. lola o
    August 7, 2019 at 8:25 am

    Brilliant words, brilliant oration.
    your words are true testament to a brilliant woman, black like me who was able to bring out the writer in all of us. she will be missed but her words remain immortal.

  6. Pam Crews
    August 7, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    That honorific belongs on a shirt! Thank you for having the words that I just do not right now. I, too, was bowled over by Sula and always feel like it gets shoved down the lists of her best work too often. Immortal indeed.