Any attempt to distill the impact of Toni Morrison’s into a few paragraphs on a blog is sure to be futile. She has given us so much and we have taken it all without a moment’s consideration. That is the kind of writer that Morrison is, she inspires fervent adoration and acclaim (all of which is well-deserved) from all walks of life. She is undeniably one of the greatest writers of both the 20th and 21st centuries.
Take, for example, the following quote by Carolyn Denard, which appears in Black Women In America: A Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 2 M-Z.
In [Morrison’s] works, she strips away the idols of whiteness and of Blackness that have prevented Blacks in the United States from knowing themselves and gives them their own true, mythical, remembered words to live by. She takes on the whole culture and seeks to restore the mythos and the ethos that will clarify the meaning of the journey of African-Americans in the United States. She is healer and prophet; she is nurturer and guide; and because she achieves these tasks with such grace, such love, and such confidence, courage, and skill, Morrison holds an indelible position of prominence in African-American history and in the history of great writers throughout the world.
Morrison’s understanding of race and its role in both history and contemporary culture allows her to write about the importance of remembering and how it factors into our daily lives. When she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, it was because she “in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” The essential aspect is, of course, blackness. In each of her works Morrison manages to find a new way to think about and look upon blackness as it stands in American life.
When editing The Black Book, a collection of artifacts that traces black life from slavery to the 1940s, Morrison made the decision to focus on the black people who were not leaders. The black people who simply woke up every day and had to be exist in America, whatever that entailed at the time.
Morrison’s work has gone on to inspire several generations of writers. Two recent young talents, Britt Bennett and Colson Whitehead, have both cited Morrison as a strong influence in their work. Bennett, whose debut novel The Mothers has received heaps of praise, said in an interview, “I don’t know what more needs to be said about Toni Morrison’s genius.” Whitehead, who wrote The Underground Railroad, had a bit more to say when asked about the influence of novels like Beloved and Kindred.
“I can’t—it’s probably for someone outside to say this book—to be mentioned in the same breath as those books is deeply honoring. Before you start a book sometimes you don’t want to get infected by certain things, but I was like oh, ‘I’ll see how Toni did it in Beloved and Edward did it in The Known World,’ and I got 40 pages into Beloved, which I’d read 25 years ago just like, ‘Eh, you can’t really top this.’”
The inability to top Morrison is a proper summation of her brilliance. She is a singular and inspirational voice in the American canon of literature. Often imitated, never duplicated, Morrison’s voice and presence in literature is an evergreen necessity in American culture.