By Malik Patterson Gray
On Feb. 18, 1931, Chloe Ardelia Wofford was born in Lorain, Ohio. She later changed her name and became known as Toni Morrison.
In 1993, Morrison became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature and later went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Morrison died on Monday at age 88.
Morrison is famously known for her books “Beloved,” “The Bluest Eye,” and “Songs of Solomon.” She also helped edit “An Autobiography” by Angela Davis, the radical political activist. Morrison was an editor at Random House and a single mother of two boys, Slade and Harold. She attended Cornell University and Howard University.
Others might compare Morrison’s work to that of Maya Angelou, Andre Lorde, Patricia Hills Collins, Alice Walker or Gloria E. Anzaldúa, but what separates Morrison’s body of work from other prominent black female writers is her exquisite language and richly detailed stories that not only influenced a culture, but changed the style of writing for generations to come.
With Morrison’s understanding of race and its role in contemporary culture and history her writings allow us to remember history and how it has impacted the narrative pertaining to people of color, racism and how blackness is looked upon in American life.
Morrison’s death affected me personally because she was one of the first black female writers that I was exposed to at a young age. She manifested freedom and what it symbolized to me was that it was possible to become a writer.
It is through her work, her words, her experiences where I have found my voice and the privilege to write freely about what matters to me. Reading her book “The Bluest Eye,” I learned how to value myself and stop allowing the dominant culture to determine my worth. It is where I begin appreciating and loving my blackness.
I had a similar experience to that of the young girl in “The Bluest Eye” where I was often told how undesirable dark skin was to the point where I deliberately stayed out of the sun so that my skin would not get any darker. That internalized hate was broken when I was first introduced to Morrison’s body of work.
It is when I gained a profound new respect for my culture and my people. Her brilliance has allowed me to escape my reality and to indulge in a world that needs black writers. I now understand the power of storytelling and being a voice for those who might not be able to share with the world how they really feel.
One of my favorite quotes by Morrison that I live by is, “Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” Through her words is where I became free. Morrison’s writing has influenced my life and encouraged me to pursue a career in writing.
For many people of color, Morrison’s work has instilled a sense of hope and beauty. It emphasizes that loving yourself is the greatest gift of all and that beauty is not just external, it’s internal as well.
It brings me both great sadness and overwhelming joy to know that the life and artistry of Toni Morrison will be celebrated by generations to come and that her greatest legacy was birthing a new generation of writers.
Malik Patterson Gray, a Buffalo native, found Toni Morrison’s book “The Bluest Eye” to be life-changing.