The world lost an icon on August 5, 2019. By now you have likely read a number of moving remembrances of this iconic author and Nobel Prize winner, many of which tap into her prolific written legacy to remind us how powerful and brilliant she was in her own words.
Perhaps she summed up mortality best by saying, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
It is no surprise, considering how beloved she and her books are (including, of course, her masterpiece Beloved) that the Toni Morrison Society became the 41st author society of the American Literature Association when it was created in 1993 – five months before she won the Nobel Prize.
Like other societies, this group presents academic analysis related to her body of work through a newsletter and biennial conferences. But unlike other similar organizations, this society launched a national service initiative focused on secondary school teachers and young readers called “Language Matters.” Designed by high school teachers, this program created instructional material to help teach imaginative literature. This led to the launch of the Young Readers’ Circle, a community outreach initiative that helps students aged 9-13 engage with the kind of lyrical fiction embraced by Ms. Morrison and her readers.
At this point, her works are so thoroughly embedded in our culture, you have likely been influenced by her thought leadership even if you have never opened one of her books. She influenced and inspired practically every fiction writer born in the last 50 years, and her relationship to the publishing industry allowed her to help countless writers throughout her career more directly.
You and I may not be quite the towering figure that Toni Morrison was in literature, but there is likely some area where we shine. As you consider the measure of your life, take a moment to consider what “language” you speak. It might be more visual, like photography, or as delicious as baking the greatest cookies in your neighborhood. No matter your gift, please share just a little more of yourself with the people around you today. As the world mourns a loss like this one (and, tragically so many others on any given day), we all need to do a bit more of whatever it is we do to show love.