Toni Morrison in Guadalajara City, Mexico, in 2005. (Guillermo Arias/AP)

Regarding the Aug. 7 front-page obituary for Toni Morrison, “Nobel laureate transfigured American literature”:

I’m surprised at how sad and moved I am by Ms. Morrison’s death. More than that, I suddenly realize how much she meant to me as an African Americanist scholar. I was there in the 1970s when African American studies was peripheral, minor, ignored, dismissed, etc. All of that history came rushing back to me as I thought and read about her impact. I’ve never really felt so clearly how Ms. Morrison’s presence helped to create this field, not just because of her writing but also because of her swagger and unapologetic celebration of black culture, the black past, black language, black foolishness, etc.

I am also thinking about how black study created Ms. Morrison. When I bought my first copy of “The Bluest Eye,” we scholars and teachers of black studies — and I mean mainly black women scholars — began to put her books on our syllabi and embrace her work when others, such as professors of “American” literature, were not prepared to think she might be as important as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and when many black men resented her fame and her depictions of black men. No, I want to think about the figures that all these celebrations of Ms. Morrison have yet to acknowledge, the hidden figures behind her ascendancy to this place in the literary world. No matter; Ms. Morrison knew who we were and knew we were there.

Mary Helen Washington, Silver Spring

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