“Toni Morrison Taught Me How to Write” - GSU Professor Rashidah Muhammad
It was the late 90s, and I was teaching at Governors State University when I heard that Toni Morrison would be at Michigan State University. I had been teaching her novel, The Bluest Eye that semester in my Major Black Authors course. Before I went back to MSU for the weekend, I asked my students if they had questions that they would like me to ask Dr. Morrison. One of the students wanted me to ask about the purpose of the sofa that was mentioned several times in the novel.
Of course, I knew the answer and we had discussed it in class, but he wanted Dr. Morrison's answer, her words. In The Bluest Eye, the poverty-stricken family had purchased a sofa "on-time" (they were to make weekly payments). When the sofa arrived, it had a small tear in it. The family did not want the sofa with a tear, but the delivery driver refused to take it back.
As the story progresses, the small tear becomes a bigger and bigger rip. At MSU, during the question and answer session following Dr. Morrison’s presentation, I posed my student's question.
"Dr. Morrison, one of my students would like to know the purpose of the sofa in The Bluest Eye." She looked me straight in the eye and said, "What do you think?" She talked a few moments about the sofa representing the disintegration of the family. But her question to me still rings in my ears. The one thing Morrison teaches readers is to think critically and come to action conclusions.
What do you think? What should have been done? What should be done? Dr. Morrison's books have and will continue to compel readers to study social ills, seek justice, and equity and to think.
The MSU conference was the first of three places I met Dr. Morrison. Additionally, we met at the 5th Biennial Toni Morrison Society Conference in Charleston, S.C., where I presented a paper on "My Place" in which I explored the concepts of finding one's space and identity using her novel, Sula.
At the 6th Biennial Toni Morrison Society Conference in Paris, France, I presented a paper on "Bridging the Middle Passage" which explored the works of Morrison and Nigerian author and poet Chinua Achebe.
Toni Morrison taught me how to write. Reading and teaching her novels showed me how to gather and honor the pieces that I am.
— Rashidah Muhammad is a Full Professor of English at Governors State University.