There are a few ways to give people their flowers before they die.
You can support their art — buy their work, attend the plays and the films, introduce the essays and poems and stories and novels and albums and songs and paintings and sculptures and on and on that move you to the people you love. You can, if you know them or have access to them and know how to do this appropriately and without being creepy or entitled, tell them what they have meant to you. And if you are so moved and so endowed, enter into conversation with their work. You can interrogate their genius; follow the trails they blazed until you make your own; add to the totality of the projects and the movements they started.
But above all, you can fight to ensure the conditions continue to exist such that art may flourish in the world. Support the libraries, and the after-school programs, and the ability of children without means to attend those after-school programs; support the community theaters and the independent book stores and the journals and the small presses; find and support the legislators and politicians who defend and maintain and increase funding for the music and the arts and write to the ones who don’t. Show up, the way artists have shown up for us over and over again.
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak. We write. We do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I came to Toni Morrison through Maya Angelou and the scholarship of Arnold Rampersad. Rampersad’s concern was Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka and Ralph Ellison and Morrison’s orbit was their orbit. And Ellison, especially, was incensed at Morrison’s talent and success.
I came to Maya Angelou through books my mother bought me while I was growing up on an island and in a region that has an interesting ability to produce art and artists despite the best efforts of our schools and our governments and in many cases our families. It is an origin story I have in common with Rampersad.
Trinidad and Trinidadians are responsible for my love of and respect for black art, including and especially African-American black art. Life is like that.
“But then there is the other mission, the less obvious one, the one in which Morrison often does the unthinkable as a minority, as a woman, as a former member of the working class: She democratically opens the door to all of her books only to say, “You can come in and you can sit, and you can tell me what you think, and I’m glad you are here, but you should know that this house isn’t built for you or by you.” Here, blackness isn’t a commodity; it isn’t inherently political; it is the race of a people who are varied and complicated. This is where her works become less of a history and more of a liturgy, still stretching across geographies and time, but now more pointedly, to capture and historicize: This is how we pray, this is how we escape, this is how we hurt, this is how we repent, this is how we move on.”
— from “The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah