Toni Morrison, an African-American woman and doyen of literature, a Nobel Laureate was called to the great beyond early this week at the age of 88. We begin this brief tribute in her honor, with the following immortal words of hers:
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down … And if there is a book you want to read and you haven’t read it yet, write the book yourself.” – Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison, a Great African Dame of Our Time is gone! She breathed her last peacefully, on Monday night, August 5, 2019, in Montefiore Medical Center in New York. She was a multiple award-winning author who wrote a total of 11 novels over the course of her career alongside five children’s books, two works of fiction, nine non-fiction books, and song cycle, an opera, among other literary works of hers. Her novel “Beloved”, which was adopted into a movie, won her the Pulitzer Prize in Literature. This was followed by many other prestigious awards in recognition of her Distinguished Contribution to Letters in America and influence beyond.
“One word can end a fight, one hug can start a friendship; one smile can bring unity, one person can change your entire life.”
The above words give us the summary of the impacts of Toni Morrison’s on the lives of many, through her long career of literary work, editing, publishing and mentoring; all accomplished through the power of her pen, wits and writings. Through her writings and literary engagements, ToniMorrison impacted positively and changed the lives of many for good.
Toni Morrison, though had gone before us to the great beyond, she remains a great inspiration to present and future generations of Black African writers, all Americans and others. A great storyteller of unmatched empathy, elegance and powerful, Toni Morrison’s belief that “language is the measure of our lives”, leaves an extraordinary, ‘inspiring inheritance’, and her beautiful writings will continue to be a blessing for generations of Black African descents to come, as well as to all Americans and others.
In the passing unto glory of Toni Morrison, both African-Americans and Continental Africans, indeed the world in general, have lost one of their greatest voices, storytellers, mentors and motivators. As one of her mourners twitted, in the writings of Toni Morrison, we were all ‘touched by her being and her gift.’ This fact is attested also by many other tributes in her honor in various ways since the announcement of her demise last Monday.
She has been described as an incredibly powerful and impactful Black woman. Her work ‘gave us power, hope and freedom’ as Blacks and Africans in particular. In her work, Toni Morrison taught us, her fellow Black flocks and others, about the word “Re-Memory.” While our world shines a little less bright today with the demise of Toni Morrison, we know “something that is loved is never lost.”
Toni Morrison was a towering intellect, a brilliant writer of all times of our Black Africa and America’s complex stories; ‘a heartbreaking Journalist of deepest desires and a groundbreaking Author who destroyed stereotypes, precepts, prejudices, walls and those who dared underestimate the capacity of a Black woman!’
The Challenge of Toni Morrison’s Legacy to Nigeria and Africa
For those us from continental Africa, especially from Nigeria, where ordinary citizens are beginning to awaken to the consciousness of the continued dehumanizing reality of their country, reign of terror and impunity of those in power, Toni Morrison’s legacy is a great challenge to all of us. She has much to teach us.
For us in Nigeria, for example, Toni Morrison teaches us about the need to awaken to our socio-political responsibility to our land and people with the power of our intellects and wits, and as citizens to whom the real power belongs. As people living under a regime fast transforming itself into a reign of tyranny and dictatorship, Toni Morrison, is challenging us to take our destiny by our own hands and save our land to salvage our already over-traumatized suffering poor masses in cities and countryside.
Toni Morrison teaches us about the need to wrestle power with our wits and intellect from corrupt political class and tyrannical regime, which have infested Nigeria with terrorism, fear, bloodshed, deceit and lies; kidnapping, fraudsters, massively fraudulently rigged elections, illicit government, abuse of power, torture, floating of rule of law and order, military impunity and recklessness.
Toni Morrison in her literary legacy as a Black woman, born and raised by ex-slave parents of African descent in America, challenges us on how to battle and struggle against homemade repressive regimes of modern-day African despots. She challenges us on how to battle and defeat new forms of foreign influences – the devastating effects of Neo-colonial projects of Western powers in our African countries that often sustain, and are behind the permanence of tyrants and unpatriotic individuals as heads of governments in various African countries.
Her literary work is a reminder of an ‘unfinished African project’ for our generations of Africans. That is, unravelling and challenging the “pain of the unhealed historical memory – our wounded African dignity and image” in the consciousness of the world. This includes also the challenges of current struggles in many African countries today, including Nigeria, for a second independence from the domineering ethnic-groups and their foreign sponsors.
These tasks, our generations must not abdicate. Living up to them is the best tribute we owe to Toni Morrison and many other past great individuals of African descent of her caliber.
Toni Morrison’s legacy and literary works remind us of all these tasks and more of them before us today. The challenge of Toni Morrison’s legacy to us as Africans and Nigerians in particular, can be summarized as follows:
“Without a contest of ideas, literary scholarship and creative writings fueled by dissent, protests, and necessary agitation if need be, our country will grow more ignorant, timid, and ultimately, impoverished.… A society which lives in darkness and unchallenged impunity will one day find itself overrun.”
Through her writings, literary scholarship and engagements, Toni Morrison ‘filled the gap.’ She provided the space that inspired millions of African-Americans, all peoples of African descent and others, to ‘break the chain of fear’ and take their destiny by their own hands as a Black race and people in a heavily charged racist society, and world of deceit and tyranny of the day. With such a force of her pen and writings, Toni Morrison became a central figure that changed the racist American society forever, and contributed in no small measure in restoring the wounded dignity of Blacks globally.
That is the greatest enduring legacy of this most wonderful, beautiful, and most courageous, elegant, powerful Black woman, Novelist, Author and Nobel Laureate of African descent that had ever walked on the American soil in our time.
In that legacy, Toni Morrison’s works will transcend the test of time. She will always remain an inspiration to both present and future generations of all peoples, especially, men and women of African descent in Diasporas and in the continent.
R.I.P to this unique and towering woman of African descent of all seasons. Rest well and in peace, our Black African Dame and Queen of Literature, Toni Morrison! ADIEU
Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He runs a column on The Trent. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.