I have not kept count of how many times I have read and reread Toni Morrison’s 1973 Midwest based Novel, Sula, but after 4o years, that beautiful, sultry bold woman never lost her spark.
Much like the author, Morrison, Sula carved out a life of her own, soaring above any adversity that she had to fight through to become successful. The first Black woman to win a Nobel Prize died August 5, 2019, after a brief illness, said her family in a statement released to the public. She died in New York’s Montefiore Medical Center. She was 88 years old.
The fictional character, Sula, was the woman I admired from afar, savoring every little thing she did as an independent, feisty, passionate and intelligent Black female, who went against the grain and could care less what others thought about the way she lived her life. Written in 1973, as Toni Morrison’s second major work, this book was added to a litany of now required work for high school and college students.
Professor Morrison’s appearance was memorable, as she was known for her long, thick, gray coils of loc, high arched brows and red lips as a full figured woman, signing books from her wheelchair, in recent years. Sometimes she had an African accent with earrings or a scarf tied to her natural hair. Whenever her name was included in a reading or event, fans lined-up days in advance, to purchase books and receive her autograph. Readers have paid $3 – $5,000 per seat to listen to the Goddess of literature speak and read aloud.
President Barack Obama gave this pioneer the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, after she had won an array of awards, including the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for “Beloved.” She also earned the National Book Critics Award. She received the Carl Sandburg Literary Award from the Chicago Public Library. On October 20, 2010, television host Oprah Winfrey, interviewed her idol, Professor Morrison at the University of Illinois-Chicago campus. At that time, Professor Morrison told a Chicago Tribune writer that she was focused on how America perceived African American literature. In that article, she said she grew-poor in Loraine, Ohio, and American people cared about each other, especially children.
Professor Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford, as the second oldest child of four to her working class parents. Her mother stayed home and her dad was a welder. Morrison discovered the library in her hometown, and never stopped reading.
After graduating with her undergraduate degree in 1953 from Howard University and a master’s degree from Cornell University in 1955, she worked as an editor for twenty years at Random House, and is credited for bringing Black authors into the forefront for mainstream publishers. She divorced in 1966, and supported her family as a single mother of two sons, showing other women how to embrace mothering and professional responsibilities. Morrison was her own person and did not aim to become politically correct.
Morrison’s fans considered her a brilliant writer with a voice of authority that addressed social issues, dark secrets, child abuse, motherhood, enslaved Africans, forgiveness and Black History in various aspects. Morrison spent lifetime writing, but after writing The Bluest Eye in 1969, her star never dimmed from the public’s perspective. Beyond storytelling, her love of words and emphasis on history was compelling internationally.
Professor Morrison was the Robert F. Goheen Professor at Princeton University. While teaching, she composed The Bluest Eye, Beloved, Song of Soloman, Tar Baby, Jazz, Playing in the Dark, Raceing Justice, En-Gendering Power (serving as the editor), The Nobel Lecture in Literature, The Dancing Mind, Paradise, Love, Home, God Help the Child, Birth of a Nation’hood (co-editor), and A Mercy, which was selected by the Chicago Public Library’s adult reading program.
Professor Morrison’s body of work will continue to be taught for the generations to come. Services for the author had not been announced by press time. Morrison’s fire will never die or be snuffed out in history.
Research for this article was included from The Chicago Tribune, “Toni Morrison on America, Oprah” October 20, 2010, Section 3, The Chicago Sun-Times, “Morrison: The Truest Eye by Maudlyne Ihejirika” and “Beloved author leaves lasting legacy by Deirdre Donahue for USA Today LIFE.