Lead Story Local News Uncategorized West Edition

Morrison remembered as ‘literary powerhouse’

LOS ANGELES — In response to the death Aug. 5 of award-winning author Toni Morrison, the organizers of the Leimert Park Village Book Fair said they will dedicate this year’s fair to Morrison.

A spokesperson for the fair said they are “deeply saddened by the loss” of Morrison and that she was a “literary powerhouse.”

Dedicating this year’s fair to Morrison is representative of her dedication to African Americans through literature. The spokesperson said organizers felt that she embodied their theme of “We Do This for the Culture.” The fair, now in its 13th year, will be held Aug. 24 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

Morrison, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, died at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, according to her publisher, Penguin Random House. She was 88.

In a statement released by the publisher, Morrison’s family said she died “following a short illness” and was surrounded by loved ones. 

Morrison’s body of literary work focused on African-American life and culture, countering an industry in which depictions of the black experience were often limited and rooted in stereotypes.

Response in the literary community was immediate.

“I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of sadness,” said Nyle Brand, who is relocating to Los Angeles after earning her master’s degree in African-American studies from Georgia State University. “I felt like now it’s our time to continue to try and unpack her because she’s done a lot of work.

“I think we’ve been losing a lot of greats. Particularly with her though, I felt a sense of peace and that now we have an ancestor whose work we need to continue to try and unpack because she has actually left us with a lot of literary work and perspective on what we’ve been doing in the literary people as African people, specifically in this country.”

At Eso Won Books in Leimert Park, Morrison is considered a literary giant.

“We hosted Toni Morrison some years ago,” said James Fugate, the co-owner of Eso Won Books, who has nearly 40 years of experience in the book-selling industry. I’ve been selling her books since I’ve been in book selling.”

That’s why Fugate said the first thing he did to honor Morrison’s legacy was order more books.

“Being in a business in which the loss of a major public figure leads to sales is always sort of sad to me but we’ve been through this with Michael Jackson, Prince and especially Aretha Franklin. … Other books that people have not read they will pick up and that’s a very great thing that the author enjoys a second renaissance.”

Morrison received a number of literary distinctions, among them the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, for “Beloved,” which is considered her masterwork. A decade later, Oprah Winfrey produced and starred in a movie based on the book. 

“’Beloved’ changed my life,” Brand said. “I was introduced to it back in high school but the way that it was taught kept me from being able to understand all that she was doing in that piece. [I] revisited it again at Howard University, where I studied undergrad, just her ability to tell multiple stories at one time but also show the complexity that family and kinship systems go through in our families, specifically with historical context in this country, I think that was really powerful.”

Morrison authored several books besides “Beloved,” including “The Bluest Eye,” “Song of Solomon” and “Sula.” 

Books that Timothy L. May Jr. wants to be required reading for all three of his daughters as they come of age and mature into black women.

“It’s safe to say that her impact transcends various times, eras, generations and genders,” May said.

She also was a dedicated professor and lecturer at Howard University, Princeton, Yale and Texas Southern University. 

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, issued a statement about the death of the Nobel laureate who she considered a literary genius.

“Our hearts are heavy with the loss of Toni Morrison, one of the most prolific writers and brilliant storytellers of all time,” Waters said. “Through her critically acclaimed and ground-breaking literary works, Toni Morrison captured the beauty, chronicled the pain and celebrated the triumphs of the African-American experience.

“She was a true literary genius who made history as the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for her masterpiece, ‘Beloved,’ and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. I extend my deepest sympathies to her family, friends, and loved ones during this difficult time,” Waters added.

Waters said Morrison never shied away from tackling controversial issues such as slavery, racism, misogyny and colorism through her written works, and in doing so, awakened the conscience of our nation. 

“May we all continue Toni Morrison’s work of creative expression and speaking truth to power,” Waters added.

Morrison’s “truth to power” will always remain true with book lovers like Brand.

“Just dive into her work, because she left us with so much,” Brand said.

Contributing writer Bria Overs contributed to this story.