It is with trepidation that I write this. A familiar trepidation that arises in me every time I attempt to deconstruct, analyze, or appreciate your work. I know I am unworthy and without the masterful use of metaphor, language, and syntax that God seems to have exclusively gifted to you, but in the spirit of your many beautifully flawed and defiant female characters: despite my short-comings I insist on saying what I have to say, which is thank you.
Praise for your overall genius is nothing new for you, I wonder if it even gets old after a while, but I do have to confess that when I first encountered a novel of yours in the ninth grade “genius” was the last adjective I thought to describe you. But like the good word says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man/woman, I gave up childish ways,” and eventually I had seen the light of the intricate maze of plots you set in the beautiful, dangerous, and mysterious landscape of your language.
The spirit of fearlessness that I’ve found in all of your work from Pilot to Consolata is inspiring and affirming—no one does a complex black woman like you. No one penetrates the taboo and exposes its good, its bad, and its ugly like you. And no one confidently refuses to explain their work like you do:
“I have spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books” – Toni Morrison
suddenly there was a place for me to escape the Eurocentrism that confronted me at every corner. You showed me humanity and the complex forms it takes when shaped by race, sex, class, and religion.
There have been many times where I’ve finished one of your novels and contemplated giving up my own desire to be a writer. I mean how am I ever going to write something as intricately metaphoric as Song of Solomon, or as intensely intimate chaotic and beautiful as Tar Baby, or as brilliantly symbolic as Paradise? But the brilliance of your work, both fiction and non-fiction, is that you evoke and even require that I write, that I continue to add to the cannon of African-American literature. It is you who famously said,
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it” -Toni Morrison
and even though I’m convinced you’re written every book I could possibly want to read, you encourage me to explore my voice and to share my stories and, most importantly, never explain that which is already understood by those for whom I write.
Thank you for being you and for sharing your gift—we are all unworthy of it.