How Toni Morrison’s works Inspired me to Write

Her rich narratives inspired me to write with depth and without constraint.

When I recently saw Toni Morrison trending on google my stomach flipped. How likely was it that she was trending because she had broken the internet with a controversial picture or been involved in some tasteless topical scandal or a public spat with a peer? Highly unlikely. Toni Morrison was a Nobel prize winning writer who stood on the platform of her integrity to inspire others and scatter her gems of wisdom among us literary types. So when I saw her trending, I thought the worse and sadly I was right. Her recent passing has really saddened me, not only because she was arguably one of the greatest writers whoever lived, but because stumbling on her work as a child is what inspired me to write. It might sound odd but for the longest time I always considered it a privilege that my favourite author was still living and breathing while I was.

An Early Introduction

My introduction to her work came through a copy of the novel Paradise which I found laying around one of the spare rooms in my grandmother’s house. At my young age, a lot of the sentence structures and dense metaphors were beyond me. I was unfamiliar with words which read like art. My first encounter with how she wove her words together so abstractly intrigued me and I hoped to one day access her stories.

I was second time lucky when the motion picture of Beloved was released. A part slave narrative about a woman named Sethe who (now freed) is haunted by the child she sacrificed in her infancy. Sethe lives with her surviving daughter Denver When a mystery woman named Beloved appears out of nowhere and wreaks havoc on their household. Oprah Winfrey bought the rights to the novel and  starred alongside Danny Glover and Thandie Newton in the 1998 motion picture. I was captivated by it and it soon became one of my favourite films. Of course, the novel was even better.

A Life’s Worth of Writing

Toni Morrison did with words, what I hadn’t thought possible. She wove intricate portraits that humanised the suffering of a historically oppressed people. She brought the narratives alive that compelled people of all backgrounds to sit, up, take notice and empathise. Moreover, she inspired me to gather my experiences and spill them onto blank pages through one of her most memorable quotes:

“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

I absolutely adore this quote. It’s nurturing and yet earnest about the need for us writers (arguably the biggest procrastinators) to be proactive in creating the art that we want to consume instead of waiting for what may never appear. She did exactly this with her own work and thank God she did! I can’t imagine a world without her stories in it. Morrison juxtaposed the traumas of slavery with the infinite possibilities of newfound freedom in Beloved, she liberated her characters without minimising their suffering.

In The Bluest Eye, which I discussed in this previous post, she holds up many mirrors which enable us to see how little black girls view themselves both internally and externally, how their beauty and worth is viewed both within and beyond their own communities and the external factors which help to either shape their strong sense of self-worth (Claudia McTeer) or lack thereof (Pecola Breedlove).

Her works serve as historical artefacts; fictional ethnographies that speak to the very real socio-historical experiences of black women and yet can engage everyone. Her stories are many things at once: harrowing, brutal, awakening, educational, honest, beautiful. I’m just grateful that she inspired me to pick up something that I love- painting pictures with words. And for that I am truly grateful.

Have you ever read anything by Toni Morrison? If not, which writer’s work has inspired you the most? Let me know in the comments below!

17 thoughts on “How Toni Morrison’s works Inspired me to Write

  1. Jeche Rucker

    Great piece! “The Bluest Eye” was the first novel I read by Morrison at 18. It changed my perspective on life and writing. Made me raise my own standards as a writer and reader. There’s not a Black woman writer I know who wasn’t inspired by her. It’s been encouraging, these past few days, reading about the impact she had on her audience. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Writerlygem Post author

      Lovely comment Jeche, Like you, these past few days have been quite reflective for me. It’s great to hear how she had an impact on your writing too. Thank goodness we have the words she left behind!

      Reply
  2. Casey

    Toni Morrison was truly a breathtaking author able to bring narratives alive and make readers feel so much through her works. I can easily see how some would be inspired by her works as they are fabulous!

    Reply
  3. Noah Purser

    I’ll be honest, I haven’t ever read a book of Morrison’s, but I might do just that after read this. That is an amazing quote by her, and it seems like she was a very wise person. With that said, the authors that have inspired me the most have to be S.E. Hinton and Becky Albertalli. While Hinton’s work inspired me to read and write more at a young age, Albertalli inspired my writing style. 🙂 Great post!!

    Reply
  4. Laura

    Integrity is definitely the word that sums up Toni Morrison. A college professor recommended “The Bluest Eye” to me in college as a book that I should read to help me write my first novel, and her descriptive narration definitely influenced my work. Really nice tribute.

    Reply
    1. Writerlygem Post author

      It’s great to hear others talking about her techniques! I was just thinking about Tar Baby yesterday and how I had strangely forgotten she’d written it. I’m definitely going to revisit it soon. I’m sure I’ll find new meanings that had previously evaded me!

      Reply
  5. Rachel

    I have not read any of Toni Morrison’s work, but reading what you’ve written about her alone has made me appreicate her more. My mother showed me picture after picture over the weekend of her beautiful hairstyles — Toni herself was a work of art. Thanks for this tribute to her 🙂

    Reply
  6. Nancy

    It is great that you were inspired by Toni to start writing outside of the box. Doing your own thing is always good, especially when you want to stand out in the crowd. Wow, Toni goes way back! I totally agree with that quote, it can be applied into so many different things, even tech apps. Thanks for sharing this piece!

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

    Reply

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