About That Time Toni Morrison Made Me Cry

Toni and Maya holding hands

Talk about a  major moment in recent Black history, two literary Queens sharing one stage and basking in each other’s glow.

That’s what happened Wednesday night when Bluest Eye author Toni Morrison honored writer Maya Angelou at the National Book Awards this evening with the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

“It’s a personal pleasure to honor a friend and artist and a legend,” said Morrison, who said how wonderful it is that such a talented person doesn’t put others down. “Instead, Maya Angelou inspires delight as well as awe,” said Morrison. “Her reputation sparkles with elegance, generosity, humor…compassion, and dare I say it, wisdom.”Toni-Morrison

In her speech, Morrison said that when her son died one Christmas, the very first non-family voice that she heard on the phone was Maya. ”With so much toxicity around in this world, the celebratory social life she offers her friends and colleagues is a blessing,” said Morrison. “And trust me, Maya can cook.”

After listing Angelou’s prolific list of accomplishments from journalist to playwright to screenwriter to author and beyond, Morisson said to her friend, ”Dr. Maya Angelou, you improve our world by drawing from us, forcing from us, our better selves.”

And the pinnacle of true sisterhood, Toni Morrison said that despite her extreme talents,”Maya inspires delight, never envy”. (This is when my soul jumped out of my body and began to applaud)


Angelou took to the stage and responded, ”It takes one to know one.”

She is a blessing,” Angelou said about Morrisson, thanking her “sister friend” of many years.

“God put a rainbow in the sky,” sang Angelou, referring to a passage in Genesis. “God put a rainbow in the clouds. You are rainbows in my clouds,” she said as she thanked the literary community for choosing her “whether she deserved it or not.”

“Easy reading is damn hard writing,” said Angelou. “I am trying to tell the truth, not everything I know, but the truth.”

“People live in direct relation to the sheros and heros they have and I thank you for honoring me,” she concluded.

I think about the ballet class I teach on Thursday nights and how the girls, all adolescent, applaud for each other and shout “Yassss!!!” ecstatically whenever one of their classmates completes a triple pirouette or a lands a beautiful jump. Their exuberance makes me smile every time. I only wish that my experience in ballet, or in life for that matter, was this supportive.

So often women, particularly Black women, are raised with the notion that there can be only one Black women at the top of her field at a time. Only one star. But if only one star could light the night sky at a time, we’d be covered in darkness. How dazzling a place the world becomes when as women we unite in each others glory, and we toast each other’s accomplishment. The world needs our gifts, and our truths as Maya Angelou said. That’s what true progress and what sisterhood is all about.

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