Where to begin in the soaring story of a woman, a writer, an African-American woman writer, who achieved the heights and then much more? What could be told that captures and conveys the essence of this real-life legend, who is now no more.
She is, paradoxically, even more with us, because of the lush record of words and grand experiences of her people that she reached for and distilled in one piercing tale after another.
This much must be acknowledged immediately; whatever is gathered and amplified is not enough. It merely touches in fleeting strokes the rich legacy of a life well-lived, well-explored, well-discovered, and well-told.
Toni Morrison unearthed and delivered the African-American pathos in all of its stark horrors, its bottomless anxieties, its immeasurable poignancies of the flesh, the spirit, and the still unfulfilled promise and future.
In so doing, this towering figure grew from strength to literary strength, and shares a powerful presence with such immortals of the African-American literary pantheon as Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin.
She gave voice and searing articulation to the troubles and pains of her people, in ways rarely imagined by others, including people of her own. The recognitions and accolades came, but not without the usual lengthy intervals of having to pay dues, the extra and double time dues, that is so much a part of the history of the life that she understood.
There was the National Book Award, then a Pulitzer, and the granddaddy of them all, that rarest and highest of pinnacles, the Nobel Prize for Literature. Take a bow, Toni Morrison, for writing with such a heavenly pen on the hell that is so much a part of the earth graced.
Young, aspiring, struggling Guyanese writers should look at, probe deeply, and examine seriously the collected works of Toni Morrison and walk the journeys that she penned with such harrowing eloquence.
Guyanese writers must summon the fearlessness, fortitude, and stamina to look at their world and write in a language that cascades with the joys and sorrows, the trials and tribulations, the rare successes and many failures that are so much a part of the cruelties and agonies of local life.
Like Toni Morrison, local scribes must discover the truth of their existence, in pursuing the writer’s calling with faithful integrity to identify with the sounds not heard, stories that cause flinching, and the emotional bonding that brings weeping.
This was the ethos that Toni Morrison compelled from her heart and her pen to drip with the red blood of ancestors, the black truths long unembraceable. So, too, must the individual Guyanese author encircle her times and make them her own. Together and separately, they must relate to and then project the luminosity of local experiences. This is not limited to Afro-Guyanese writers, nor the African-Guyanese experience, but to all those who lift up pen to spill the stories of past and present. Sometimes they will bring shivering, but that is part of the writer’s craft, the only ingredient of his character.
Like Toni Morrison reach for the experiences that range from despair and hopelessness to emotions and visions and, in between, the evils and righteousness that are part of the unshackled wandering of sight, of mind, and of the deep care that links with the forbidden realities that some live with, survive through, and that are begging for the telling.
The rich tapestry of tales of the Guyanese experience waiting to be tapped is of the betrayals, the wounds, the unfulfilled promises.
Toni Morrison did not flinch; she did not waver; she did not spare. Her writings are more than about wondrous words and powerful phrases, they are about the sublime truths of people crushed, scorned, and then cast aside.
Toni Morrison will live on; her words will sing as long as people care enough to read, to learn, and to hold close what brings cringing.
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