What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction

Toni Morrison possessed and shared with us knowledge about ourselves, through the power of words.The work of the grande dame of Black American Literature has always commanded our attention.  Great fiction writers create stories expressed through characters, plot and language that speak truth to all of us. Their work takes our breath away by making us look at life we never thought about, and even denied existed. Toni Morrison was a great writer who wrote about the lives of Black Americans.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution legally abolished slavery, but it did not heal the abominable wound of slavery. The damage done to lives by slavery and racism continues. Toni Morrison’s novels are about the multifarious injuries to the lives of Black Americans, over decades, day upon day. Her work speaks truth about humanity to humanity, and that truth was not always welcomed by people of all colors and hues. She caused both disruption and approval in the thoughts and feelings of many people, but she worked on. That is what great writers do.

The novels are short and concentrated by a poetic sentence structure that makes you pay attention and think and feel. This has been done by other great writers, there are a few others, but in this moment two come to mind:  William Faulkner and William Shakespeare. Great poetic voices bringing us the truth about love and hate, beauty and ugliness, revelation and redemption, by way of glorious language and syntax.

The great body of her work, novels, are in the Literature & Fiction Department, as well as in the fiction sections of our 72 branches. This was acknowledged late Tuesday afternoon, August 6, 2019, by one of our patrons who dropped off a rose in honor of Toni Morrison. She wrote about other subjects, just as arresting in style and content as her novels, and all of her work that the Los Angeles Public Library owns can be found here.

Toni Morrison's essays also use poetic language and structure, but not with the same complex syntax as that found in her novels.  However, her non-fiction will shift and shake a reader's perspective and assumptions as much as her fiction. She admonishes, warns, and explicates about past history, of the individual or the group, and cautions us about the future. The essays/non-fiction are as highly recommended as the fiction, and might be an entrée to the rich complexity of her novels. In whatever Toni Morrison wrote, she knocks us back with unexpected insight and truth.

As long as there is one person or one group of people, anywhere in the world, made to feel less-than, by word or deed by another, then Toni Morrison’s work speaks to them. Through her novels, and non-fiction, she looked directly at all of us, spoke truth to us whether we wanted to hear it or not. The thoughts, feelings and actions expressed through her characters and plots are here forever, as long as the printed word exists, and there are people to read her stories. She is gone but not silenced.

For three humorous remembrances, from writers who knew her, consider reading, "Remembering Toni" from The Paris Review, August 6, 2019.