A Tribute to Toni Morrison: Ms. Morrison, Ancestor by Lyric Hunter

When I first learned she'd passed away, I was on the phone with my father. We sighed together briefly, then moved on to matters that pressed on us more immediately, like bills, paychecks and dead car batteries. An hour later, I felt the news sink in more fully as social media posts, elegies and quotes began filling my digital space: surrounded by all of the little ways we make ourselves visible online through writing, I thought, I'll have to write something, because I am a Writer. I didn't feel up to the task. I felt too small. The one thought I did have was, she's an ancestor now. And that gave me a feeling of peace and calm, and I held onto that. However, I wasn’t grieving until I began to write this.

The passing of a writer like Toni Morrison can often throw into relief the poverty you experience in regard to their work: you haven't read enough. You haven't studied enough. You've been meaning to read Beloved and Sula, you vaguely remember the novels you were assigned in school, you have her essays pulled up in a dozen browser tabs. You never had enough appreciation for her when she was alive and you feel like you failed her. 

The thing about ancestors though is that they bathe you in their light and grace always. Ancestors forgive you, and want you to succeed at your own pace, and to be patient with yourself, because you have work to do. Even before Ms. Morrison became an ancestor, she was living the words we're repeating everywhere right now: the function of freedom is to free someone else. The word function is operative here: it’s not a reason, it’s not meaning. The phrase isn’t a metaphor for freedom. Freedom is active, it is action. The activity of freeing someone else comes naturally to the freed. I think of Ms. Morrison, in her role as a teacher and as a colleague, lifting up and encouraging young Black women writers, and that is freedom in action. It is with this action in mind that I turn to my friends, my community, spread out across the United States, and I ask them what I can do for them, and support them as we enter into the grace of our new ancestor.

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