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August 8, 2019 at 8:16 am

Mda: Toni Morrison ‘Imbued Me with the Courage to Stretch the Limits of Myth’

Dr. Zakes Mda, portrait

Dr. Zakes Mda

Dr. Zakes Mda, retired Professor of English at Ohio University, was quoted in a Black News Zone story about the passing of Toni Morrison headlined “Nobel literature laureate who transformed American lite…

Morrison, who died Aug. 5, grew up in Lorain, Ohio.

And Zakes Mda, the renowned South African novelist, playwright, painter, and university professor (now teaching at Ohio University, not so very far from Lorain, Ohio) wrote to this writer after learning of Morrison’s passing to say:

“I think Ms Morrison was very important to me as a writer – imbued me with the courage to stretch the limits of myth – and to my students who were then able to appreciate their own Ohio environment as a source of magic. Whenever I taught a Pan African Literature class, I would have among the prescribed texts a Morrison.

“My affinity to her was on her use of what scholars call magical realism. She hated that label. But it was not for her to choose what to be called. It is never up to us writers but it is the role of scholars to categorise our work and place it in its pigeonhole according to the characteristics they observe in it. So she complained to no avail. She hated other labels too that were quite complementary to her; for instance, that she was a ‘poetic writer’. She felt that when people spoke of her lyricism it took focus away from the power of her stories.

“But one label that she embraced was that of ‘Black woman writer’. Morrison was important to South Africa too. South African women have had book clubs since the 1890s, but these were for the elite and were few and far between. The phenomenon of book clubs that blossomed throughout South Africa, even in the rural areas, really took off in 1996 after Oprah Winfrey started her book club on TV. One of the early books that was selected was Morrison’s Beloved. Quite often I would visit a book club in rural Qwaqwa or Butterworth or urban Pretoria and find women reading Beloved.”

Read more at Black News Zone.


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