Once upon a time, there was a day when I carried Toni Morrison’s luggage!
Beloved had just been published and she had been invited to present at the Miami Book Fair, then a still smallish event.
I was a volunteer for the Book Fair, and I jumped at the opportunity to make the airport run to pick her up.
I took full advantage of my enviable position and, while I did not seek permission, I spent a few days in advance of her arrival to organize a reception for her at the Mutiny Hotel- where she was staying- and extended invitations to the Board of Directors, Miami Book Fair, on behalf of the Greater Miami Chapter, The Links, Inc.
Waiting at the gate (pre 9/11), I grew more and more anxious when she did not immediately emerge from the plane. She was one of the last off; in no hurry to get to anywhere.
That was my first impression of her spirit and persona: relaxed.
Since I got to her first, I had the chance to spend several hours talking in her hotel room before the reception, but not before we stopped to buy her cigarettes! I thought, she is so human, like me.
It was a heady two hours!
Alone. Me, and Toni Morrison.
We talked about family (her two sons); how she prepared to show up to the page (her writing habits); where her characters came from (they simply appeared and told her who they are, what they look and sound like, how they dress, etc.), and so much more.
I was enthralled. I soaked up every word. We did stay in touch for a little bit afterwards.
I had already become a fan of her brilliant mind having read several of her books.
I would often use that line one line in Sula, where her main character told her adult son that she could not put him back and rebirth him after he had ruined his life, whenever I was confronted with some transgression committed by my own adult sons (post age 18).
Toni taught me how to not be concerned about “the gaze”, you know that ever- present, judging, looking- down- onto- me- stare coming from the dominant white male society, in which I had begun travelling.
She showed me how to better navigate these United States of America with its political trappings and pledges of allegiance to materialistic pursuits and false values.
She taught me how to love myself- a black girl in a black body with black features, black skin, black hair and a fine black mind.
Toni taught me how to love more deeply. That soulful, culturally based love for one another because we share a common suffering that forces us to keep one another held in the regard gained from pain.
Toni wrote all that down on paper and presented it to the world in bound volumes that will survive all time.
Last year, I started to re-read her work. So far, I have completed The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Paradise. But I’ve got a dozen more novels to get through, and volumes of essays to go.
I was about to start on Beloved- again, and I hesitated only because I wasn’t ready to re-experience the Nobel Prize-winning prose that took my breath away(literally); the relive the strong spirits she brought to life made me suffer- only to enjoy sheer joy from their survival.
Toni did that. Thank you Toni Morrison for showing up; for showing out, and for showing me the way.
You were all the ‘pieces’ you were. Toniwg1@gmail.com