Lola Shoneyin on Toni Morrison
I didn’t read a book by Toni Morrison until 1992. Song of Solomon was on the reading list of my African American Literature class; I became an ardent convert from the first paragraph. This 1977 novel became my Bible. I would read out loud to schoolmates and they would roll their eyes at my obsession. No-one was surprised when I chose The African Presence in Toni Morrison’s Fiction as my project title.
Beyond the poetic use of language, her centering of Black lives made me curious about a Blackness that was outside of my reality as an African in Africa. Ms. Morrison’s work felt like I was eavesdropping on an important conversation about extended family. The Bluest Eye, Sula, Jazz, Paradise were all revelations for me, each one addressing different, sometimes difficult questions about Black consciousness and identity.
I included a small tribute to Toni Morrison in my first published novel. I created a character called Teacher, wholly inspired by Circe in Song of Solomon. It feels like a gift to have been ‘tutored’ by her works. I finally met Ms. Morrison at Festivaletteratura in Mantova, Italy in 2012. It’s not a day I will ever forget.
Check out Lola Shoneyin’s latest book Nostalgia Is An Extreme Sport
Lola Shoneyin‘s works include three books of poems, most recently For the Love of Flight (2010) as well as three children’s books including Iyaji, the Housegirl (2021). Her debut novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives was nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2011 and went on to win the PEN Oakland 2011 Josephine Miles Literary Award, and the Ken Saro Wiwa Prose Prize.
Shoneyin is the founder of Book Buzz Foundation—an NGO that is devoted to promoting literacy, creating reading spaces, and organising cultural, Arts-focused events such as the Ake Arts & Book Festival, which is now one of the most important literary festivals on the African continent.
In 2016, Shoneyin founded Ouida Books. She is working on her second novel, and a series of children’s picture books set in northern Nigeria. She resides in Lagos.