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In celebration: An homage to Toni Morrison

The English Department will celebrate the life and work of Toni Morrison. Check PPCC’s student online newspaper, The Paper, for event details.


Toni Morrison’s greatness—lyrical prose that embraces the rhythms of black oral tradition, unfettered complexities, and marvelously unglued characters—is rooted in her love for language and humanity.

“Dandelions. A dart of affection leaps out from her to them. But they do not look at her and do not send love back. She thinks, ‘They are ugly. They are weeds.’ Preoccupied with that revelation, she trips on the sidewalk crack. Anger stirs and wakes in her; it opens its mouth, and like a hot-mouthed puppy, laps up the dredges of her shame. Anger is better. There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth.”

Our young protagonist decides that dandelions are ugly (and by extension she is ugly) because others implant the notion of what is lovely and what is grotesque. They refuse to see the beauty of this flower, a flower that by no coincidence waxes nostalgia of childhood wonderment.

Morrison extols, epically and poetically, the beauty of our blackness and exposes the sharp the vicissitudes of the human condition. She writes about the black female experience. Her characters, like me, are subjected to the cruel and jarring realities of growing up in America—a country that systematically undervalues our beauty and our humanity. She, though, acknowledges the vagaries of black femininity, sings our dignity, and cultivates our beauty.

—Dionne HowellEnglish Department

“Oh, you are a pretty little girl, but you would be so much cuter if you were yellow like your momma.” To my five-year-old ears, those words did not make sense. My momma was Mommy, my pretty mother who always smelled like Avon perfume. But to others, including this insensitive “color struck” woman, my mother was, as it is called in the South, a light-skinned “red bone”, married to “darkness”—my more darkly complexed father.

For me, yellow was the color of lemonade or pencils, not my mother. But as time went on, I learned what this woman meant. “The Bluest Eye,” one of my favorite novels by Toni Morrison, touches me in a way that I cannot put into words. The tragic story of Pecola Breedlove breaks my heart every time I read it, yet I continue to re-read it time and time again. Morrison introduced me to the beauty of language and demonstrated how an author, through words, could create a story that the audience not only reads, but sees and feels as well. Her complex prose necessitates repeated readings of her works, allowing the reader to discover something new each time. She was a literary genius perfect for her time.

—Jacquelyn Gaiters-JordanAcademic Resources & Services

Toni Morrison is a titan of American literature, a genius. Reading Beloved in college was a transformative experience in my life, and revisiting the opening chapter always gives me chills—Morrison’s narrator expertly sets the scene of a family haunted by the trauma of enslavement. The novel was inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner, and Morrison constructs her sentences so they first pummel the reader and then begin to take on a beautiful, terrible momentum. Last semester in my American Literature class, we paired Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn with Morrison’s Beloved, and it was fascinating to see how the two novels, written one hundred years apart, reflect and refract the complex legacies of America. Morrison’s work strikes a blow against denial, but her work also believes in beauty, and in the future. I’m not so sure about the concept of the Great American Novel, but the novels of Morrison belong at the pinnacle of the literary canon.

—Amie SharpEnglish Department

We are enmeshed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where the physical, digital, and biological worlds are merging into something unrecognizable. Those entrenched in the past struggle to find meaning in this strange shapeshifting reality. For those looking to the future, literature will serve as a memory album as alien to America’s grandchildren as an unexpected ghost reanimated from our moral violations and victories, but a ghost we must remember if we are to understand our culture and, therefore, ourselves. Toni Morrison’s novels are prophetic in this way. Her language is so rich, so seductive, that you can nearly feel the pressure of her presence pushing out from every page, reminding us of the electrifying heritage we can neither forget nor deny. Her Beloved is always with us, close at hand whether we see her or not, the one we need, the one we have to have, the spectral figure of a history visible only for as long as Morrison’s words echo in the minds of future generations. She is Beloved, and we are hers.

—Eric StephensonEnglish Department

Toni Morrison reminds me not to take lightly my desire and ability to spin tales and whisper lyrics, to not ignore the startling gateways that mean others will hear and respond to my sometimes insecure and always incomplete longings and visions. She writes, “Unpersecuted, unjailed, unharassed writers are trouble for the ignorant bully, the sly racist, and the predators feeding off the world’s resources.” Even when we write an essay, we feed energy into the world that creates space for the possibility to, in the words of another sage, Audre Lorde, “dismantle the Master’s house.” Lorde claims that “poetry is not a luxury” for the same reason that Morrison writes, “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to [human]kind; they are its necessity.” Will we believe them? Sometimes we hesitate to write or speak because of self-doubt or fear, and Morrison has a solution to this as well: protection via our community.

—Lachelle SchillingEnglish Department

I was fortunate to have a Toni Morrison scholar as a professor in graduate school, and she introduced me to Beloved and then Song of Solomon. That was only the beginning, but what a beginning it was. To say I’d never read a writer like Morrison is an incredible understatement, but it’s profoundly true. We all have artists who change the way we see the world and our role in it, and Toni Morrison is still one of mine. As a writer, I’m humbled by her voice and poetic vision; as a reader, I’m blessed by her humanity.

—Gary WalkerEnglish Department