I do not personally possess the eloquence to properly speak on the legacy of Toni Morrison. Morrison was the first Black woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for literature, in 1993. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Those honors validated Morrison’s pen for the rest of the world but for Black folks they weren’t necessary — we knew the timeless treasure we had in Toni Morrison, well before anyone else bothered to care.
I feel a strange kinship to Morrison. She was born in Lorain, Ohio, just as my father was. Literature became her love early but it was the greatness of a Black college, Howard University, that nurtured it. After graduating from Howard she went on to earn a graduate degree from Cornell, before returning to Howard to teach. Morrison was a Black scholar, first. In a world in which people are obsessed with instant fame and clicks, Morrison took the time to perfect her skills, study her craft and from that foundation produced literary works that changed everything. It was Black excellence and Black scholarship that made Morrison one of the greatest writers the world has ever seen.
Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eyes and Beloved (among many others) are the fruits of Morrison’s Black scholarly tree. Every contribution she made to the world of literature was rooted in her training as a scholar, along with discipline and dedication to her craft. If there is any lesson that this generation can learn from her, it is that true greatness comes not from a microwave but from the slow and intentional workings of an oven. In an age of internet fame, we must never forget the necessity of Black excellence and scholarship. Further, we must never forget that our best and brightest, like Morrison, have always been the product of Black colleges. Toni Morrison has departed but her pen lives on. Her pen was and is beautiful, Black, scholarly and excellent.