When I first read this message in a friend’s Facebook post, I wondered who he was talking about. Surely not my Toni Morrison. I was in disbelief and even when another friend confirmed the news and I finally saw the articles pouring in on the web, I still didn’t want to believe it. Toni Morrison had passed.
Toni Morrison died on Monday, August 5, in Bronx, NY, from complications of pneumonia. She was 88. As the news of her passing settles around me and into me, as I begin to accept it, I feel a loss and am moved by her passing. No, I did not personally know Morrison, nor have I read all her books or have met her, but I felt her presence in my life. She (her books) were a presence in the households I lived in, especially when I moved to the U.S.
I am late with this post. More than two weeks have passed since Gloria Naylor died, but I couldn’t let her passing go by without making a note of it on this blog. Gloria Naylor, a noted African-American writer best known for her novel The Women of Brewster Place, died from heart failure on September 28 near her home in the Virgin Islands. She was 66.
I faintly remember the day I picked up Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to read. It was the summer before sixth grade and I had read all the books I owned so I scoured my parents’ bookshelves for something new. The memory of the day and Lee’s story has faded from my memory, but I recall that I was so intrigued by the story that I completed the book in two days.
I didn’t know what significance the story carried. It was just something to read on a slow summer day. But I remember that I was touched by its contents and choked up a bit while reading. That’s the only experience I’ve had with Lee’s work. Since the release of the controversial Go Set a Watchman, I’ve debated returning to Lee’s books. I would like to re-experience her first novel and read the second for myself to see what it is about. But I have been skeptical about Go Set a Watchman because part of me believes that she was forced into publishing it. After all, she had avoided the media for years and had refused to publish another book after To Kill a Mockingbird.
I was sorry to learn that Harper Lee had passed. She died on February 19 in her hometown, Monroeville, AL. She was 89. With To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee so impacted literary canon that her novel became a staple on many high-school literature reading lists. It also won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1961, a year after it was published. Though she will be missed, her work will continue to endure and she will be remembered.
I was first introduced to William Zinsser in my college’s Art of the Essay course. One of the many books we were required to purchase was the popular On Writing Well, a book that is recommended by many writing instructors. It is this book, which has sold more than 1.5-million copies and is often paired with Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, that made Zinsser’s name a popular one. It’s unfortunate that he has passed.
Terry Pratchett is an author I’ve often heard of but never got around to reading. His books are always recommended but for some unknown reason, I’ve never placed them on my TBR list until a few months ago. Though I’m unfamiliar with his work, I was still shocked when I read he had died.
Pratchett, a British author of comic fantasy novels, died on Thursday, March 12. He was 66. Along with his zany stories such as the Discworld series, which is set on a disc-shaped world that is balanced on the backs of four elephants that stand on a giant turtle’s shell, Pratchett is also noted for his satire, which is compassionate rather than biting. In 2008, it was revealed to the public that Pratchett suffered from a rare form of Alzheimer’s. Due to his diagnosis, Pratchett advocated for assisted suicide and began the formal process for it in 2011. His publisher claims that his death was not due to suicide.
I was surprised when I heard of Maya Angelou‘s passing and a bit shaken as well. Maya Angelou, one of the coolest writers ever died on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Earlier that day, I was reading a passage on Angelou in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey while commuting to work. After reading, I reflected on what I knew of Angelou’s life and thought to myself, “She sure lived a long and eventful life.” So you can imagine my surprise when I arrived at work and learned that she passed.
I was introduced to Angelou by my mother’s bookshelf. She had a copy of Angelou’s I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings and I attempted to read it when I was younger since the adults spoke of it so much. It wasn’t until I got to high school that I was able to finish it. In high school, I was introduced to Angelou’s poems and she quickly became one of my favorite poets (I don’t have many). I love the rhythm of her poems and I enjoy reading them aloud, listening to my voice ride the poem’s flow.
My favorite poems by her are “Phenomenal Woman” and “Million Man March”. “Phenomenal Woman” is a poem brimming with confidence. Whenever I read it, I unconsciously straighten my back and thrust my way into the world, confident in my femininity. “Million Man March” is a powerful one. It reminds us of our dark history and reading it aloud, I can almost hear the slaves’ dragging feet and the pull of chains. It nudges us, the Black race, to keep pushing forward, no matter what may be thrown at us. It, too, gives me confidence.
I admire Angelou. She will be sorely missed. My fondest memory of her was when she spontaneously broke out into a rap on Arsenio Hall‘s show. I’ve included a clip of it above. Moments such as these, and, more importantly, her activism, are what endear Maya Angelou to many of varied backgrounds.
Who can write a novel sans dialogue but so engaging it keeps you up at night? Who can weave a story so loopy that it spins you in dizzying circles? Who can create a place so mystic that you never doubt its reality? Who?
And the book—One Hundred Years of Solitude, the first book I’ve read by García Márquez. I am amazed by García Márquez’s talent and his clarity in his observation of humanity. This novel depicts the progress of civilization. It is one of the greatest novels I have ever read and it has left a deep impression on me. One Hundred Years of Solitude was my introduction to a profound artist and I am saddened to learn that he is gone.
May his soul now rest in peace.
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez
I have always heard mention of García Márquez and his books are always recommended to me. At first I shied away from them thinking, as I always do, that since he is a literary novelist and most of his books are considered classics, his prose would be cumbersome and his plots a drag. One would think my mind would stop thinking this by now. I was pleasantly surprised, when I finally buckled down to read One Hundred Years of Solitude, that I enjoyed it and could hardly bear to tear my eyes away from the book to do other things. The story would haunt me throughout the day while I worked. I constantly wondered how the story would progress, how would it end, would I get confused by the cast of characters all bearing similar names? It was torture to be away from the book for too long.
I plucked One Hundred Years of Solitude off my bookshelf after reading a passage in Wonderbook (by Jeff VanderMeer) that states One Hundred Years of Solitude is a story written without dialogue. I found that amazing and wanted to experience such a story. I wondered if such a novel would be dreadfully boring. After all, many times dialogue is used to speed the story along or simply to give the reader a break from stacks of paragraphs or to showcase other facets of the characters. Like in Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series where the characters often interject certain aphorisms and similes in their conversations that reveal who they are and where they’re from. For example, Siuan Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat, is from Tear and is the daughter of a fisherman so she often uses aphorisms and similes that include boats, nets, and fish.
On Thursday, January 9, Amiri Baraka died in Newark, N.J. He was 79. Amiri Baraka was one of the greats in African American literature. He was a writer—poet and dramatist. He was a voice of the Black Arts movement. A voice who spoke out against the injustices done to his people and imbued his works with his anger towards Black suffering and oppression. Like those who choose to speak the truth or speak truthfully about their experiences and observations, he was tagged as controversial. Sometimes he was penalized for his thoughts. But such actions did not deter him from continuing to reveal the truth and present reality.
I was first introduced to Baraka in college when I took an English seminar course that focused on African American literature. We studied a few of his work including the popular play, Dutchman, and poems such as “A Poem for Black Hearts”, “SOS”, and “In Memory of Radio”. My favorite was “Black Art”. I’ll admit, I’m not a great fan of poetry but I appreciate Baraka’s work because his passion is readily apparent. His poems stir you and change you while you read. By its end, your thoughts will be leaping wildly, trying to keep up with the storm of emotions thrown at you. I have included above a video of Baraka reading his poem, “Someone Blew Up America”. It’s one of those poems that expose truths, rile people to action or leave them unsettled, and cause an artist to be labeled controversial.
I was so shocked to hear that Chinua Achebe died that I failed to believe it at first. It’s not until I read an article on the New York Times’ website that I began to believe that it might be true. Chinua Achebe, a renowned Nigerian author, died on Thursday, March 21, in Boston. He was 82-years-old.
Achebe was my introduction to African literature. I can still remember the time when I stumbled upon his book, Things Fall Apart. I was in college (seems like decades ago) and was helping a friend pack his things for storage since he was going home for the summer. He pulled out a box full of books and naturally, I gravitated towards it. I was astounded to find novels in the box since I knew my friend hated reading. I randomly picked up Achebe’s book and read the synopsis on the back. Intrigued, I decided to read it. I was captivated by the story and finished it in a day. I decided to hold onto the book (which my friend did not miss) so that I could return to it again. It now sits on my shelf, gathering dust, and now that my mind has strayed to it, I’m considering to re-read it soon.
It’s sad that Chinua Achebe has passed but may his soul rest in peace.
Stirring words from Chinua Achebe:
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
“Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am—and what I need—is something I have to find out myself.”
“People create stories create people; or rather stories create people create stories.”