Last week, the world lost a truly amazing person—a brilliant, captivating storyteller whose creative and scholastic output has had an immeasurable influence on those blessed to read her literature and hear her speak. Toni Morrison (1931-2019) was one of the greatest writers, thinkers, and truth tellers of all time, which explains the countless tributes offered to her since her death on August 5, 2019. Just as scholars, musicians, artists, other creative writers, and the general public have all rushed to celebrate the life and legacy of Toni Morrison, she can also be honored for her determination to repeatedly and prominently portray and celebrate black girls in literature.
In a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts interview with Rebecca Gross, Toni Morrison acknowledged the need for literature that highlights black female children and adolescents:
Writing for me is thinking, and it’s also a way to position myself in the world, particularly when I don’t like what’s going on. It’s extremely important to me. [Confidence] came with time. I knew I always was compelled to do it, but I didn’t know how essential it was to me.
I wrote the first book because I wanted to read it. I thought that kind of book, with that subject—those most vulnerable, most undescribed, not taken seriously little black girls—had never existed seriously in literature. No one had ever written about them except as props. Since I couldn’t find a book that did that, I thought, “Well, I’ll write it and then I’ll read it.” It was really the reading impulse that got me into the writing thing.
Whether portraying Pecola Breedlove and Claudia MacTeer in The Bluest Eye, Denver in Beloved, or Sula and the others in Sula, Morrison offered readers serious portrayals of black girls in literature that have and will continue to stand the test of time.
And for this love and consideration, we, once again, honor this literary icon, and say, “Thank you, Ms. Toni!”
“We was girls together,” she said as though explaining something. “O Lord, Sula,” she cried, “girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.”
It was a fine cry–loud and long–but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.Sula, 1973