We always knew she was on our side

Bernardine Evaristo in The Guardian:

It’s hard to overstate the significance of Toni Morrison in the pantheon of global black literature. For many of us she was the lodestar who inspired us to write from within our own cultures, often from female perspectives, and to dignify the heterogeneity of black experiences through literature we could call our own. As a young, aspiring writer I was enriched by her work and empowered by her words of wisdom. I read an interview with her in the seminal Black Women Writers at Work, edited by Claudia Tate, in 1984, which articulated exactly how it felt to be a young black British woman writer at that time. She and others galvanised my generation to write our stories and smash through the walls of the status quo. “There’s a notion out in the land,” Morrison said, “that there are human beings one writes about, and then there are black people or Indians or some other marginal group. If you write about the world from that point of view, somehow it is considered lesser.” Morrison, our elder stateswoman, spoke with authority on issues of race and literature, as she did for the rest of her life. We always knew she was on our side.

She wrote uncompromisingly about African American society and history, and positioned her characters on the main stage as fully fledged humans with an extensive emotional range and intellectual scope. She showed the complexity of their lives through her formidably imaginative, storytelling powers. Her books were in the tradition of a literature that stretched back to the “slave narratives” of the 19th century and she was by no means the only writer filling in the cultural absences in an American literature that too often excluded, marginalised or stereotyped her people. Writers such as Audre Lorde, Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker and Ntozake Shange were also early inspirations for me. But Morrison reigned supreme, in no small part due to her extensive output of 11 novels and three books of critical thinking, as well as works for children, opera and theatre.

More here.