Remembering Toni Morrison

The author, teacher, Nobel laureate, and a great American writer has died at the age of 88.

The question of what is real is at the heart of magical realism. This implies that our notions of reality are too limited—that reality includes magic, miracles and monsters. Few novels embody this concept move vividly that the celebrated Beloved by the Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.

When dealing with trauma in storytelling, authors often turn to magical realism. The very origins of the genre are rooted in the colonial trauma expressed in the work of the Latin American writers; same is true of the African American experience. Some realities are too inhumanly unnatural to be examined unless a supernatural lens is applied, and nobody does it better than Toni Morrison in Beloved.

At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.” —Toni Morrison

Sethe, the protagonist of Beloved, was born a slave and escaped North, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many ugly things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

Like the Latin American, the African American storytelling tradition rejects the primitive Western dichotomy of reality vs fantasy or truth vs fiction. The line between worlds blurs, and the mystery is accepted as a possibility, creating a narrative rich in metaphor and poetry, yet ultimately true to reality.