Toni Morrison: The Personal As Universal | Connecticut Public Radio
WNPR

Toni Morrison: The Personal As Universal

Aug 6, 2019

Pulitzer prize winning author Toni Morrison died Tuesday at the age of 88. As news of her death spread, tributes paying homage to her began pouring out on Twitter. Known for her striking command of language and vivid storytelling of Black life through multiple novels, Morrison's work left a mark on more than just writers.

Morrison, born Chloe Wofford, didn't start as an author. She began first as a college English professor thenĀ  as an editor for Random House, working tirelessly to publish books by and about Black people, from Angela Davis to Muhammad Ali.

Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eye at 39 as a single mother of two boys. It's something that Hartford's TheaterWorks producer Taneisha Duggan relates to.

"What's sticking with me is how she managed to create as a mother of two sons because that's where we parallel," Duggan said. "I think that tenacity, that joy -- I loved Beloved and then was terrified seeing it on screen."

Duggan started reading Morrison's work as a teenager and hasn't stopped since then.

"Beloved feels different to me now as a mom, so I think that's personal and I think it's how she used her personal to tell universal stories."

Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, struck audiences with its raw tale of an enslaved woman who attempted to take her own and her children's lives. Oprah Winfrey, who later became a personal friend of Morrison's, turned the novel into a movie.

The Lorain, Ohio native's work never shied away from discomfort, rather it reveled in it. Her audacity in telling inconvenient truths in unforgettable ways has made her an author for the ages.

Less than two months before her death, a comprehensive, immersive documentary about Morrison's life Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, featuring Davis, Winfrey, Sonia Sanchez and Morrison herself, debuted as a limited release across the country.

Toni Morrison during her time as an editor at Random House.
Credit Courtesy Magnolia Pictures

Decades before her death, Morrison touched on mortality in her Nobel prize speech saying, "We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives."