The first lesson Harvard Divinity School’s Davíd Carrasco learned from the late novelist Toni Morrison involved the power of reading and the written word. Morrison said she saw herself as a “reader who wrote.” She learned to read at the age of 3 and worked as a cataloger at a library in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio, as a teenager.
Later, as book editor at Random House, she played a major role in bringing Black writers and literature to print, with a focus on Black culture, history, and “the artistic strategies the works employed to negotiate the world they inhabit,” Carrasco said. Morrison’s constant reading greatly informed her writing. “She was never a static author,” he said.
On the eve of what would have been Morrison’s 91st birthday, Carrasco shared stories from his 32-year friendship with the Nobel laureate. The Thursday evening remote lecture was hosted by the Harvard Extension Alumni Association Midwest Chapter.
Carrasco, the Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America, said the two met in 1990 when he attended a lecture by Morrison about the Herman Melville novel “Moby-Dick.” The lecture analyzed how people of color were portrayed negatively in the novel and the effect this had on not only readers, but on other writers.
“[As she spoke,] I felt a stirring of memories, growing up as a Mexican American,” Carrasco said. “A tissue of profound meaning was growing between me and Morrison.”
He approached her after the talk and the two shared their love for the book “The Words to Say It” by Marie Cardinal, on which Morrison had based her Massey lecture series, “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.” They became fast friends, a connection that would last until her death in 2019.