I heard the news that our forever Nobel Laureate died today and stopped what I was doing and just cried. Not because I knew Toni Morrison or even loved her the way I have loved some authors in my life–as if they were my godparents, as if they were my hand-holding guides. But because she was our literary leader. Our temporal foremother.
Through her voice coursed reason and righteousness and great great rage and always a syncopated stylish rhythm. Also joy and the bluest birds. She was the most American writer the 20th century ever birthed: Starting with the ancients (all of them, not just the blue-eyed devils), she wrangled with every bard and bastard in her deep sea of a gaze (her dap see). Then she scanned our whole desperate diaspora and showed us how we could tell, who we could tell. Who we could tell on. This she did with the grave and greatly earned presumption that US history was hers for the raking.
Today as I weep the tears someone else may have wept when Kennedy was shot, I think of Jazz. Maybe some view it as her lesser work, if she had one. But it’s the one that most terribly and terrifically invades my innards. In it she wrote:
Pain. I seem to have an affection, a kind of sweet tooth for it. Bolts of lightning, little rivulets of thunder. And I the eye of the storm. What’s the world for you if you can’t make it up the way you want it?…. Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it. I saw you and made up my mind. My mind.
Her mind is the one we still need in this desperate moment in America. But she has earned her rest so let her mind become all of ours. The timing of a great public figure’s death is never a coincidence—usually, it’s when we most need their light to shine through all of us. Throughout her career, Chloe Ardelia Wofford compelled us with lightning-and-thundering to reckon with the truest legacy of America—its rusty rusty bloodshed, its tarnished tarnished hope. More than that, she reminded us we always have a choice even if we don’t dig slim pickings. So let’s not just mourn her. Let’s make Her Mind.