Toni Morrison Dancing: Photos of the Author at Work and Play

There’s an image that will stay with me forever: Toni Morrison, Bill T. Jones and Max Roach were all onstage together. Toni Morrison read her beautiful text, Max Roach was at the drums and Bill T. Jones was dancing. And at the end of the evening, Jones took Morrison in his arms and waltzed across the stage. I have spent the better part of today searching for that picture, the one of Toni Morrison dancing. There are several photos here from that performance, but the image of the curtain-call waltz may exist only in my memory of the evening.

The photos here can be viewed in some way as a travelogue, images along the path that was the big score of Morrison’s legacy. She did not do cocktail parties, but she made time for a party in celebration of her winning the Nobel Prize. You can see her here, joyful and in her element, at Maya Angelou’s home, with Oprah Winfrey; Susan L. Taylor, the longtime editor of Essence magazine; and Angela Davis. This photo captures “black girl magic” incarnate: There is so much beauty, so much power, so much excellence and activism and joy.

There came a point in Morrison’s life when her very portrait became a kind of shorthand for literary gravitas. With her silver locks, she was, in her last decades, a lioness of letters. Images of her remind me of the Zora Neale Hurston quote: “I love myself when I am laughing. And then again when I am looking mean and impressive.” Morrison could do serious like nobody’s business, but she had the best laugh, the biggest smile. Her voice remained until the end, a seductive Marilyn Monroe-esque whisper. That comes through in the photos too, how her beauty had complexity. The books she wrote are an indisputable bounty, but the photos of her are their own kind of gift: a reminder that her life was a dance, a voyage of discovery, decades in the making.

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