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  • Writer's pictureAlicia D. Dervin

What Would Toni Do? Honoring My Literary Ancestors - Part 2 I expected, I did not find the time to get my second What Would She Do? post up while it was still Black History Month. Let's face it, February is just too short! However, since March is International Women's History post, I thought the second part of this series would work just as well here.

As I mentioned in my last post, there are so many Black women writers who have influenced my work and my aspirations as a writer. However, if I was ever asked who influenced me the most, the top spot will always rest with the late Toni Morrison. She is one of the few writers who I can say I actually own copies of the majority of their work (I'm missing a few of my titles here...the search to find them will commence as soon as this is posted!).

Toni Morrison wrote with descriptive details and created complex characters that rivals the work of the "great" of canonized American literature, even though she's not always celebrated with the same regard (at least not in traditional literary and academic circles). So, with that in mind, I knew I wanted to use this space to honor her and her legacy. Here are my top reasons why Toni Morrison is the G.O.A.T. when it comes to my literary ancestors:

1. Toni Don't Play That

Have you guys ever seen the video from a 1998 interview with Jana Wendt? If not, I've linked this gold HERE. I watched the video early in my undergraduate studies, and it has literally stayed with me since that time. In other words, it lives in my head "rent free" as the kids say. There is a part of the interview where Wendt presses Morrison about the inclusion (or her intentional decisions not to include) White voices in her writing, to which Morrison replies, "You can't understand how powerfully racist that question is, can you?" Aside from Tabitha Brown's sacred gathering up of Wendy Williams a few months ago, this moment in this interview is one that has challenged me to call out implicit and explicit bias and/or racism whenever the opportunity presents itself. In short, I view it as a call to action.

2. Masterclass on Humanization

Conveying emotion in writing is not always easy. Humanizing your characters in a way that reaches beyond surface level feelings is also a challenge at times. What I love about Morrison's work is the seemingly effortlessness with which she accomplished this. Honestly, she wrote about some REALLY TOUGH STUFF! Across her collective works, there are themes of struggle, tragedy, triumph, racism, enslavement, mental health, love, heartbreak, relationships, love of self...the list literally goes on. She allows readers to not only see the characters in her books, but to feel what they are feeling as well.

3. She Said What She Said! My Favorite Lines from Morrison's Work

These are in no way all of my favorite Toni Morrison lines, but they are the ones that just sort of stay in my head and heart:

  • "Thin love ain't love at all." ~ Beloved

  • “Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.” ~ The Bluest Eye

  • "Misery don't call ahead." ~ Home

  • "You can't own a human being. You can't lose what you don't own." ~ Song of Solomon

  • “The presence of evil was something to be first recognized, then dealt with, survived, outwitted, triumphed over.” ~ Sula

I would be in front of this screen for several days if I listed all of my favorite lines from her work, but the ones above are just a few that illustrate her greatness in the smallest of ways. As I continue working on the novel I'm currently writing, I do so with Toni Morrison sort of guiding the way. I've included a list of a few of my other favorite Black women writers. Who would you add to the list? Comment below!

  • Alice Walker

  • Anne Petry (extremely underrated/unknown!!!) The Street is so compelling!

  • bell hooks

  • Maya Angelou (duh!)

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  • Edwidge Danticat

  • Tayari Jones

  • Zora Neale Hurston

  • Zadie Smith

  • Audre Lorde

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