Aug 7, 2019

When we think of the word ‘masterpiece,’ we picture a revolutionary painting curated by the best artists of age or an inventive material that elevated humanity. It’s sometimes even used to describe an infrastructure, a sculpture, or even a cooking recipe. But in the sense of literary writing, it’s envisioned to be something timeless.

Just like the legacy left behind by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Toni Morrison, who told stories about the life of black Americans being subordinated in the Western society. Her words about racial discrimination, skin privileges, cultural identity, and community belongingness entitled her to be the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.

On Aug. 5, Toni Morrison died from complications of pneumonia at the Montefiore Medical Center, a spokeswoman told the New York Times. Her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf announced the novelist’s death the morning after. She was 88.

Morrison authored eleven novels and children’s books and essay collections including “Song of Solomon,” “The Bluest Eye,” and “Beloved.”

A memory of guilt and heartbreak recalls one of her short stories, “Sweetness.” It’s about a light-skinned mother being embarrassed and ashamed of having a dark-skinned daughter. In the story, the mother insisted her daughter to call her “Sweetness” instead of “Mama” just so their neighbors wouldn’t realize they are related. 

In here, Morrison pointed out indignities being faced by black Americans which include “being spit on in a drugstore, elbowed at the bus stop, having to walk in the gutter to let whites have the whole sidewalk, [and] being charged a nickel at the grocer’s for a paper bag that’s free to white shoppers.”

The fight against racial discrimination continue to spur everyday and it is through the works of authors like Morrison we continue to confront imbalances in race, ethnicity, culture, and identity.

And as Morrison said: “[Racism] has a social function. But race can only be defined as a human being.”

 

 

Header photo courtesy of the New York Magazine

Get more stories like this by subscribing to our weekly newsletter here.

Read more:

Bilingual author Yoko Tawada shares her experience writing in two languages

Understanding the nuances of language in writing with author Yoko Tawada

The inherent racism of “South Pacific” musical according to Singaporean artist Ming Wong

TAGS: African-American author Nobel laureate Pulitzer prize winner Toni Morrison