Toni Morrison

I was 18, give or take, when I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved for the first time. Friends in the year below me at school were studying it for A Level and wanted my input. Having grown up in a very small town on the edge of the Cotswolds, race relations and the history of slavery were not things I had much awareness of. The book was a poetic and brutal wake up into a world of real-life horror that I had known nothing about.

I went on to buy every Toni Morrison book I could in the following years. I studied Beloved while doing a degree in English Literature, and filled in some of the gaps in my understanding, and became increasingly aware that, white and English as I am, some of those gaps are never going to go away. But, I do what I can. Recognising what we don’t know is a useful thing more of us could do.

Toni Morrison has always made me uncomfortable. I go back to her because she makes me uncomfortable, not in spite of it. The most recent books I’ve read were so very difficult in terms of subject matter that I haven’t even tried to review them here. I do not know what to say in face of her work – that’s part of the power of it. I don’t really know what to say in face of her death, either. None of what I could say seems adequate. I am aware that it isn’t really my job to say anything about her work, that shutting up and listening is important. Often it’s the most important thing we can do. But at the same time, she had a big impact on me, and I wanted to write something today.

Without a doubt, Toni Morrison changed me as a writer. It was a comment in an essay about writing – I must have read it at uni and the other details have long since fallen out of my brain. Google has been unable to help me, so I don’t have the exact quote. It was about how the most important thing you do when writing a story is shape the gaps into which the reader puts themselves. That idea transformed how I think about my own work. I became a writer who thinks a lot about the gaps, and what space to leave and what room to make for what people bring. It’s one of the core concepts informing the whole Hopeless Maine arc. It is, to a significant degree, intrinsic to everything fictional thing I have written as an adult.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

2 responses to “Toni Morrison

  • Christopher Blackwell

    A lot of history that we need to know is not taught in our schools, in any country. Much of it is pleasant fantasy about how great our ancestors were, and use of rich and powerful to make periods of history. None of this is important as what is not taught, the dark side of history,which every country has plenty of.

    First real history is made up of what ordinary people were doing what was happening to them, and yet we read nothing about them. Then history is made up of all the people in a country, including all the minorities, citizens, and otherwise,which we hear little to nothing of. Last we hear little about the ordinary women in a country that makes up half or more of the people at any given time.

    So a lot of our misunderstandings about other people, comes from this total ignorance of them and their part of our history. The problems we see today did not become in a vacuum, there were long series of events that created them. We will never understand problems if we don’t know how they came to be. We also will then make the very same mistakes because we were not taught about them happening before.You cannot have much of a future as a person, or as a nation, if you are ignorant of the past. That ignorance is much of what is causing the recurrences of old evils in modern times.

    Real history is often unfair, violent and horrifying,but I will guarantee you that you will never find it boring as were many history classes in our school.

    If history is too much for you, at least read stories writen by the other people that you know little of, that alone could open up you eyes. Stories are important, and always have been through human history. Remember even your story is part of history.

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