Toni Morrison was a writer whose work mostly focused on African Americans and their stories.
But we hope that, in the wake of her death this week at 88, people remember that in a way her writing transcended the black experience. The stories she told were the stories of America — the stories of humanity itself.
Ms. Morrison, a Nobel laureate and bestselling novelist, created characters with attention to detail that made them feel real. She wrote with a lyricism that sometimes felt poetic, with words that both moved the narrative along and were beautiful in and of themselves. And her style, a kind of magical realism, managed to convey emotions too big or events too dramatic for standard writing to handle.
Those things are what made Morrison one of the precious few writers who ascended to the level of “best” with no other qualifiers.
Women and minorities are sometimes marginalized in the writing world, as they are in life. The works that are included in the literary canon are predominantly by white men. But at some point, it became undeniable that Ms. Morrison’s work belonged in the canon. That has at least in some small way made it easier for other black writers and women writers.
And unquestionably, her work has been meaningful for African Americans in general. She told stories mostly of black people in the Midwest, where she grew up. Her writing did not ignore the historic events and social issues that affected the characters, but she tended to show ordinary people in suburban settings, demonstrating that they were worth our attention.
As one column put it, she used language to “combat the devastating effects of ... dehumanizing ideologies.”
Anyone who reads her novels and essays becomes invested in the characters and comes away with a greater understanding of others. That, to us, is the primary purpose of fiction and the reason Ms. Morrison is among the all-time greats.
Ms. Morrison herself wrote the following in an essay: “The resources available to us for benign access to each other, for vaulting the mere blue air that separates us, are few but powerful: language, image and experience.”
We all should be grateful for her contributions.