I grew up in Long Island, the daughter of two beautiful Black parents who encouraged me to read because when they were little, such things weren’t nearly as important as survival. There was no shortage of books for me; Mommy bought me a few and the library provided the rest. But never, ever did I see ME in the pages. There were no little Black girls with parents who loved them hard, no Black churches who supported the babies, no first day of school or tooth fairy tomes or teenage tales told from the perspective of a distinctly Black experience.

Indeed, I went my whole childhood without reading a book authored by an African American. Eighteen years. And then I got to a freshman lit class, with a Black adjunct professor who made us read more of the same, including “The Great Gatsby” and other books by dead white men who had nothing to do with anything as far as I was concerned. I told her I didn’t understand it. Wasn’t trying to, either. I was too tired to be bothered. She answered my blithe critique with another class reading: “The Song of Solomon.” I read—no, devoured—it in a matter of two days. And my life was changed forever.


It was so goddamn Black. So goddamn unapologetic. So goddamn BOLD. So beautiful… every word, a gift. A calling.

copyright John Mathew Smith , h2001

Toni Morrison is the reason I picked up a pen. She introduced me to myself. She is the reason I chose to focus my art, these words, on US. She is the reason I’ve done so, without apology. She has been my light. My foundation. The core. My heart.

Today, my heart is broken. My hero is gone from here. Fly with the angels, Toni Morrison. Write our stories across the sky…

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

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