As a former immigrant child, 1 my first exposure to African-American literature was in middle school when we read a chapter snippet of Maya Angelou‘s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. At that time, because I was an immigrant kid still trying to get used to living in America, I didn’t understand a thing about how life was like for African-Americans back in the ’50s-’60s and I also didn’t know what racism even meant. I wasn’t really exposed to issues such as this growing up in the Philippines. But then again, that’s Asia for you, where it’s very rare to live in a diverse country with people who have different colored skin as yours.
I got exposed to African-American literature again in high school by reading Alice Walker‘s The Color Purple and also saw the movie. I don’t remember what my initial reaction was, but I felt like a complete culture shock by reading something so violent and descriptive, taboo if you will. I’ll have a separate post about this at a later time. But even though the content was so explicit and controversial to my naive young mind back then, the novel also won Miss Walker a Pulitzer Prize back in 1983. 2
This post is my small in memoriam to Toni Morrison, another influential African-American author who, to me, left a huge impression with her novel Beloved, which won her the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. 3 Even though it was required reading for my American Literature class back in high school, I really enjoyed the book. I think one of the reasons being was because it was a ghost story with some mysterious backstories behind it, but at the same time, it also taught us the meaning of relationships of mothers and daughters, family relationships in general, and the impact of slavery during the aftermath. It may have some sensitive and explicit scenes, namely the abuses of slaves and even the murdering of Beloved (the ghost) as an infant by her own mother, Sethe, but it wasn’t as nearly bad or descriptive as the depictions at The Color Purple.
After Beloved, it wasn’t until college that I decided to explore more novels from the African-American Lit category. I started reading some Zora Neale Hurston and rediscovered Toni Morrison again. I read her other novels from Sula, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye, and Jazz. The latest novel I read if I can recall was Love, which I enjoyed very much.
I wrote my short in memoriam post about Maya Angelou several years ago, but because of this site revamp, it’s long lost and gone. Even so, I still can’t forget her name and the books she read. The same goes with Toni Morrison, and all the books I’ve read and books I still have yet to read.
After writing this post, I thought about stopping by the library again and check out some of her books that I haven’t read. But, it can be difficult to find a specific book you’d like to read when it’s written by a very notable author such as Toni Morrison, so I’ll take a crack at reading novels through eBooks (Kindle). I don’t normally read novels in eBook format because I still love the feel of holding a book while relaxing and getting yourself lost in the written word.
I think the reason why Toni Morrison has left an impression on me, not because she was able to create many of the aspects of African-American life through her stories, but mainly because of the techniques and styles that she used to write them. For example, Beloved was a ghost story, Love was written like an epistolary account, 4 and there are a few novels that she also used unreliable narrators as its style.
May she rest in peace and power and may the power of all her stories continue on.
- “former” meaning my family used to be resident legal aliens. My parents became U.S. citizens in the early ’90s and my siblings and I were still minors (under 18) then, which made all of us automatically U.S. citizens.
- Wikipedia: The Color Purple.
- Wikipedia: Beloved
- Epistolary simply means that each chapter is non-linear, and was derived from personal accounts and narrations of characters involved, excerpts from newspapers and documents, and all other snippets from different sources that completely craft a story. Epistolary novels are very difficult to put together, as it should tell the entire story altogether through different pieces of sources.