The month of August marks one year since the death of award-winning author Toni Morrison. In her memory, here are 3 of her novels that remain must-reads today.
American novelist Toni Morrison is nothing short of a house-hold name. Her powerful stories and writing style made her not only a best-selling author, but a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner. Despite being published decades ago, her books explore social issues and themes that remain relevant to modern life. A young reader could discover her writing today and gain insight into the current times through it.
By placing black life in America at the center of her stories, Morrison’s work was revolutionary for its time. She wrote from the perspectives of black children, women and men who were never previously afforded such complex literary portraits. Today, her storytelling not only continues to bring comfort to those who have lived this experience, but can also be educational for those who have not.
A year after Morrison’s death at 88, her books live on as opportunities for empathy and education. Truly one of a kind, her writing style is as poetic as her stories are tragic. In her memory, here are 3 Morrison must-reads to enjoy and learn from today.
1. The Bluest Eye
When originally published in 1970, over 50 years ago, Morrison’s debut novel The Bluest Eye was considered a controversial read. In fact, at one stage it was ranked the second most banned book in the United States. Tragic yet beautiful, The Bluest Eye follows the life of a young girl named Pecola, focusing on hard subjects such as abuse and colorism.
Colorism refers to how, across cultures, darker people suffer more. Today, this issue is as still alive as it ever was. In fact, Morrison’s last novel God Help The Child, published in 2015, investigates colorism as well. By centering her first and final novels around the prejudices dark-skinned black girls face, Morrison proved that the issue is far from solved.
The Bluest Eye is a tough read, with imagery that undoubtedly haunts the reader. Although fictional, it surely tells the story of real girls across the world. And with this novel, Morrison demands that the world pays attention to them.
Morrison’s second novel, Sula, is about two young girls (Sula and Nel) who grow up as best friends, but grow apart as adults. Although bonded by the trauma they navigated together in childhood, they battle to reconcile after choosing such different lives. Through these different yet similar women, Sula explores black womanhood in all its complexity.
Although decades old, Sula is a refreshing depiction of women. Morrison allows Sula and Nel to be flawed, dark and weak at times. It’s a forgiving read that emphasizes how women can be whoever they want to be, even if it terrifies those around them.
In many ways a feminist text, Sula can be an empowering read for any women who has battled to identify with society’s expectations of her.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, Beloved tells the story of a former slave, Sethe. Living in a haunted house with her daughter Denver, Sethe’s story explores the unspeakable trauma that slavery and the Civil War left behind, as well as the powerful bond between mother and child, dead or alive.
Arguably Morrison’s most famous novel, Beloved was also made into a feature film in 1988. Playing Sethe is Oprah Winfrey, a self-proclaimed life-long fan of Morrison’s. When Morrison passed away in 2019, Winfrey made a touching tribute to her with a post on Instagram, saying:
“She was our conscience. Our seer. Our truth-teller. She was a magician with language, who understood the power of words. She used them to roil us, to wake us, to educate us and to help us grapple with our deepest wounds and try to comprehend them.”
In total, Morrison leaves behind 11 standalone novels in total. Her writing tackled issues that will take years to be fixed, with insight and vision that will teach generations of readers to come. Have you read any Toni Morrison novels? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.