Dany Laferriere: Friendship

A white novelist told me that apart from the color

Maya Angelou’s life is exactly

the same she experienced.

The difference is that its color

is the origin of everything in her:

his pain and his determination.

Everything I miss, she moaned. (page 166)

Friendship, this tenderness of mind and heart, especially that which united Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. The heart and the spirit form a rarer alloy than one would think, but all the more precious. There was also, between these two women, this pooling of forces to face the storm of life, but above all to more concrete and more underhanded adversities. They had two parallel lives before finding glory the same year. In 1993, Bill Clinton came to power and asked Maya Angelou to compose a poem for his inauguration. She read “On the pulse of morning”. Maya was already a celebrity for half the country; the other half discovered it that day. This America cut in two like a pear was reconciled in the time of a poem. The same year, Toni Morrison won the Nobel. A prosperous year for black America, let’s say for America, because at this height, the notion of race loses all its meaning. It is the whole of America which is jubilant, not for a boxer, a sprinter or a singer, but for two women of letters. Never seen. Yet they come from afar, from the bottom of the holds of a slave ship, one might say. Maya Angelou especially. She literally fought to exist. She fought for her dignity in the south against the Ku Klux Klan when she was a teenager, she fought against her parents to raise her child when she was a student, she fought against men because she had sex appeal and wit, a dangerous cocktail. She did all the odd jobs before meeting Malcolm X in Africa. Then on his death, Martin Luther King with whom she continued the fight for civil rights. Toni Morrison had a more studious life. She did her thesis on suicide in the work of Virginia Woolf, she is an intellectual shock. She was born in Lorain, Ohio. His parents had four children, which is not a big contribution. They aren’t rich either, the welder father, the cleaner mother, but no one is starving, as they used to say at the time. She was reading Tolstoy when she met Harlem philosopher Alan Locke, who took her under his wing. He was a dandy who believed that the liberation of black Americans passed through culture. He slipped that faith to young Toni Morrison. Harlem was buzzing, reborn, thanks to the electric energy of the poet Langston Hughes. She too had to raise her two children alone while writing. She has published some interesting novels including the story of this little black girl with blue eyes (The bluest eye) until Beloved for which she had the Pulitzer prize. It’s fame and its trail of hate. All these people who, at every crossroads in history, make it their duty to break all the models that could show young people the way. In their eyes, it was necessary to cut the tree at the root by dirtying them. These supremacists, in the United States, did not hesitate to truncate the interviews that these women gave all over the world, because they were always solicited. They hoped to make them bow their heads, push them to hide, as Maya Angelou says, “in chicken droppings”. Maya has lived a life of verbal (and sometimes physical) violence that has grown more and more unleashed over time, the violence of all those who want to crush any talent that tries to surface, but she has responded to it with her particular humor. and this impertinence that characterizes it: “Each time they attack me I write a book, so I have written seven books.” What a beautiful technique, dear Maya, to attract them where they cannot follow you. Because writing a book requires patience, art, character and generosity that they will always lack. They can fuss they can never reach your ankles, and that’s what makes them so bitter and angry. Toni’s point of view is even sharper, not being one to let things go. It is even said that she has a bad temper. In fact, she keeps all her energy for writing and research, because her books, which are increasingly historical, require solid documentation. All that remains for its detractors is slander, while it ignores even their name, thus making them pass for those creepers which, to survive, wrap themselves around the trunks of stronger trees. Parasites, in short. They are sharp with others, but round and affectionate with each other. The attacks come from right and left, from blacks and whites, but mostly from men. They face racism and sexism, not to mention the notion of class, because they both come from modest backgrounds. Some criticize them for betraying their origins, others for not having enough class. A successful woman is unbearable. It’s a shame, they didn’t talk enough about this aspect, believing that it was about their intimacy. Precisely at this stage of success everything becomes public. Their lives are constantly exposed. They eventually teamed up to deal with these attacks and a moving friendship blossomed. They hadn’t left each other since, holding hands everywhere like two little schoolgirls returning from summer vacation. They had, however, just passed the 80-year mark. Maya was seen on TV cooking for her friend Toni. Their friendship had become a bulwark against all this mud that their talent and courage had unleashed. Towards the very end Maya Angelou received “the President’s Medal”, one of the most prestigious American distinctions. And it was Barack Obama who gave it to him. She couldn’t have asked for better. Maya Angelou cried with joy that day, she who cried so much in pain. Toni was not far away. It was a friendship of more than 40 years. And still I rise, as Maya said: “You can cut me down with your words, carve me with your eyes, kill me with all your hatred, but always like the air I rise.” And no one can prevent them from flying, like wings, towards the horizon.

Dany Laferriere

January 13, 2023

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Dany Laferriere: Friendship