Kourtney Senquiz, a Ph.D. candidate in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Clark University’s Department of English. She plans to offer a course on Toni Morrison in S ’20.
On Monday, August 5th, Toni Morrison passed away in a Brooklyn hospital due to complications of pneumonia. She was one of the most influential writers of the 20th and 21st century. During her long, fruitful 88 years of life, Morrison was a professor, an editor, a writer, a poet, a mother, and a grandmother. Although we were blessed with her genius for most of her life, 88 years is not enough. It seems too soon to lose someone so greatRe. However, thankfully, her work will continue to exist and will be studied for many years to come.
As an author, Toni Morrison would not provide you with answers on a silver platter. She made you work for it, and in the end, you were grateful for the lesson. For example, her short story “Recitatif” makes her readers dig down deep and confront their implicit and explicit racial biases. Her novels The Bluest Eye and God Save the Child forces her readers to question the impact of sociological constructions of race and beauty. Her Nobel Prize-winning novel, Beloved, brought us all back to revisit the horrors of slavery and the strength of community in the role of healing. She knew the power of the written word and shared her majesty with us all.
Just writing the word “was” before Toni Morrison makes my hand tremble and my breath unsteady. How is she past tense? Why is she no longer present? Thanks to her, I notice the power of language in things as simple as the present and past tense. During her Nobel prize speech, Morrison states, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” The immeasurable impact of Toni Morrison’s writing inspired generations of writers and scholars to analyze literature in profound and challenging ways. Personally, she is the reason that I study African American literature.
Reflecting on a visit to Toni Morrison’s home, I remember how she always wanted a garden of her own. As I looked upon the flowers in her garden, I began to think about her beauty. Toni Morrison was a precious flower in the garden of our world, and her writing provides an assortment of gifts that will continue to bloom long after her passing. More importantly, she also taught us how to tend to the gardens in our life. Morrison’s writing helps us redefine weeds and their purpose in this world. She has us look upon the beauty of a rose and teaches us not to forget that thorns, as much as they hurt, are part of the beauty. While it is essential not to forget the pain, we must not let it stop us from blossoming in life. Although I feel that she was a flower plucked too soon, she left us the tools we need to maintain the garden she helped us cultivate. As long as we share the seeds she sowed, she will live on forever. It is our job to honor her memory and continue to do the work she set in motion.
Toni Morrison is immortal and lives on through her writing. Although her physical presence has left this world, her written word exists forever. As long as someone is reading her work, listening to her speeches, watching her films, or enjoying her plays; she will live forever. I will do my part to keep her spirit and word alive by incorporating her into as many courses as I can, and teaching courses devoted entirely to her scholarship. I hope that other scholars will do the same. Then, our students will share her legacy with others, and Toni Morrison will continue to live through all of us.