I’m getting through Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s recent New York Times feature “The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison.” It’s not going to be completed in a single read, or so I tell myself that as I keep sitting straight then slouching. I fight feebly to get up and finish washing those dishes.
The images of America’s great black woman writer, at 84, show a certain magnificence in the way she frames that thing that makes her Toni Morrison. I see it in her profile and in the way her voice is captured inside a sound booth as she reads her latest novel God Help the Child. It’s hard to describe. If I could find the right words to relay the right sentiment they would burst like colours strewn across the sky in yet another stunning sunset. I guess to experience Morrison’s tellings is to fall in love with written words because she exploits them in a manner to make us feel. Like how the sun rises and takes its bow splendidly, flowing silk ribbons and all. I’ll never forget that moment reading Beloved when I stopped everything, mid-everything, and went back two pages and reread; when she had us in that shed. I was shaken. Or how I actually felt sorry for those angry women because Sula had all their husbands and still mistreated them.
Ghansah must have enjoyed writing about this golden author because it certainly feels like it. Considering she was assigned to write about a Nobel laureate on her 11th novel, her challenge was not to lose the reins nor lose the reader. I keep reading. Forget the dishes. I’d rather absorb more about this storyteller who moved with other novelists to become such a memorable part of our rites of passage. And she was more. Ghansah reminds us just how radical Morrison is as a keeper of the word; how she applied her editorial might back in the day and gave us critical writers who told the world, with every page, that black lives matter. Even then.
“She was more humanist than nationalistic, more visionary than didactic,” writes Ghansah. “But to some extent her editorial work was political. ‘We don’t need any more writers as solitary heroes,’ Morrison said in her 1981 keynote address at the American Writers Congress. ‘We need a heroic writer’s movement: assertive, militant, pugnacious.’”
Seen. Writing and reading have never stopped being the political exchange we recognize as self-therapy. But Morrison has told us it’s a collective movement of writers, radical in thought, direction and style, that reflects an immeasurable power—one lighting our path to the places we need to go.