“Don’t die with your dream in you.” -My mama, Bessie
I first met Toni Morrison in my Sophomore Spanish I class. There was this girl who sat behind me, Lolita (No lie, that was her name!), and she was reading this book with a purple cover. I asked her what she was reading. With all the Black girl swag she could muster, she said, “The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.”
I am ashamed to say that I had no idea who she was. I knew who Maya Angelou was, but had no idea who Toni Morrison was. I remember asking her to see the book. She obliged and let me read the back. I purposed in my mind that I was going to read this book. I was going to find out who Pecola Breedlove was.
From then, it was on.
My ears were keen to pick up on anything that Toni was doing, anything that she read, recommended or spoke on. So, when Pieces I Am debuted in May 2019, I purposed to watch it. Through other demands, I wasn’t able to see it in theaters. When she died 5 month later? I felt like my grandmother had died…all over again. It was on August 3-4, that I was able to have time and space to watch it. And I am glad that I did.
When I saw her face, heard her voice, I cried–and the film was only 5 minutes in. In hearing her, hearing her story and journey (even thought I was familiar with her voice and story), I cried. It was an affirmation, a coming home as Black, woman and writer. It reminded me that I was always a writer–a storyteller, and the footsteps I follow in are not new…but worn.
As I finished by undergrad at UM-St. Louis, I took ENGL 3870: American Literature After 1865 (Shouts to my mentor, Dr. Kimberly Welch!). This class–I am ever grateful for. Not just because I got to meet Dr. Welch (the first Black English professor I had at UM-St. Louis), but the first book we read for class was, Beloved. It took everything in me not to shout like the little Black Baptist girl in me wanted to! I was studying my shero. I was studying a woman that I had admired since I was 15. Whose books and words and imagination told me, showed me, the possibility of language.
Just like Nikki Giovanni does…still (Have you read EGO TRIP by Nikki?! You need to. Go do that now!).
And to study Beloved right after she died, with Dr. Welch telling me to go to grad school, with listening to her voice on film–it was a hug. It was that nudge that all writers have (I believe) when they are on the precipice of something great–to keep going.
The tears came.
The sobs racked me.
The grief shook me.
I gave over to the power this gift has, and purposed to never hide it again. Afterall, if you surrender to the air, you can ride it. That’s what Toni said.