Story-telling communicators: Toni Morrison and Dr. Maya Angelou

Author pic 2020

The craft of Toni Morrison

When I learned that Toni Morrison, one of my favourite authors, had died, I shed a tear. Memories of things she had said (in her various interviews), scenes she had conjured up, and characters she had created in her novels flashed across my mind. The genius called Toni Morrison had left this earth. I thought, If being as powerful a writer and an individual as she had been does not make her immortal, then I am hopelessly misinformed in my understanding of immortality! I was able to find the following message that I had written on August 8, 2016 about Beloved. I had shared my experience with someone while I was rereading the Toni Morrison novel since I first did back in high school:

"I just read the most beautiful scene from Beloved. The scene is about two people having sex in a corn field":

Scrunched down among the stalks they couldn't see anything, including the corn tips waving over their heads and visible to everyone else.

The rest of that scene is full of innuendos; lyrical, poetic, relatable. It is delicately told with the finest precision of an author who seems to make the telling, the writing of words not only come alive but also spirit its way into your soul as if the words were your own genie. Finally, your wish to be at the mercy and power of her words makes your soul cry out for more.

The way Ms. Morrison wields her craft reminds me that the seemingly impossible can be possible. Which leads me to another author and poet, the beloved Dr. Maya Angelou. She once told this story about the power that lies within us.

She said that when doctors had told her that her young son and only child would never walk again following a catastrophic car accident after they had moved to Ghana, she went to a place so deep within herself that one could only imagine. She said she had refused to believe the prognosis and that in the end her son did walk again.

That story, which I saw in an interview, has never left me. I also went to a deep place within myself—in fact, I had to go there. It was so that I could better understand the world and experience liberation. I have been liberated through the power of writing—storytelling-communication. Storytelling is Analogous to Communication.

What Dr. Maya Angelou said to Oprah Winfrey about commanding something

Oprah: So when you walk into a room and heads turn, it's not just confidence in yourself that we see?

Maya: Oh, no. That's why, though I was never pretty, I did command something—because of my reliance on life.

Oprah: When we see you, we're seeing all of your history.

Maya: That's right—all of my history as an African-American woman, as a Jewish woman, as a Muslim woman. I'm bringing everything I ever knew [and all the stories I've read]—everything good, strong, kind and powerful. I bring it all with me into every situation, and I will not allow my life to be minimized by anybody's racism or sexism or ageism. I will not. So I will take the Scandinavian story of the little princess, I will take the story of Heidi in the Alpine mountains, I will take the story of O-Lan in Pearl S. Buck's book The Good Earth, I will take them all. I take them, and I know them, and I am them. So when I walk into a room, people know that somebody has come in—they just don't know it's 2,000 people!


Click to read Oprah's full interview with Maya Angelou

An excerpt from "What's in a Name"

“Every woman knows her own sorrows,” the woman said.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“So, you call yourself a serious cook?”

“If you love curry chicken, ma’am, nobody make it like me. And johnny cakes. I make those too.”

The woman gave Dell-Dell a half smile. Dell-Dell now knew for sure that her gift-charm had worked. Again. Like a gate she had caught a lever in the latch. Like water she had formed a new path.

Dell-Dell lifted her glasses and dried the pooling perspiration at the base of the rim. Then she dried around her mouth and her neck and smiled broadly. The long green frills of the palm tree, scratching her sunburned felt hat, were swaying to and rustling from a gust of sea breeze. Dell-Dell experienced a slight relief from the heat. The tail of the woman’s garment fluttered.

“What’s your name?”

“Dell-Dell, ma’am.”

“Gladys Waters.”

Gladys Waters invited Dell-Dell into the house. Dell-Dell followed her up the stairs, and through the fanciest room with the nicest furniture, including a dining table fit for a king, and the largest TV that she had ever seen before. They passed the kitchen on the left and came to a pair of great big open glass doors. She walked Dell-Dell through them out onto this thing of a veranda that looked onto the water at an angle and made Dell-Dell imagine that she was on the deck of a ship. After she had told Dell-Dell to have a seat at a table, Gladys Waters went back inside.

Dell-Dell removed her hat and her glasses, dried her neck and her whole face properly with her hand towel and took in the view of the ocean. Dell-Dell could see mountains and Hanover in the distance, across the water. Gladys Waters returned with a pitcher of ice cubes and water, and a tall glass. She had filled the glass and handed it to Dell-Dell. Dell-Dell began gulping down the ice water even as Gladys Waters, who was having orange juice, sat down across from her.

How to get the print and eBook versions of "What's in a Name"

Available for purchase on October 21, 2021.