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Seeing Butterflies

Black Women in History



Eight black female writers and thinkers on Toni Morrison’s life and legacy


Michelle ObamaEsi EdugyanSherrilyn IfillSarah Ladipo ManyikaTayari JonesJacqueline WoodsonMichele L. NorrisLeah Wright Rigueur

Illustration by Diana Ejaita for The Washington Post

Michelle Obama

“We belong, she showed us, not just in paperback books but in textbooks, not just in a publishing house but in the White House.”

The summer after my senior year of high school was a slow one for me. I’d had a cyst removed from my wrist, and a heavy white cast cocooned my forearm up to my elbow. There wasn’t a lot I could do. Sidelined on my parents’ couch in the South Side heat, I picked up a paperback copy of “Song of Solomon.” I hadn’t heard of Toni Morrison yet, so I can’t say I did it because I was curious about her writing, or that I was being purposeful about supporting African American women authors. The truth was, I didn’t know anything about the book. It was simply there in the living room, just like me.

I like to think that this is the way that she would have liked it; that she’d have wanted the tidiness of her prose, the interiority of her characters, the complexity of the stories to stand on their own, away from her growing legend. Toni Morrison understood, you see, that people …

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I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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What Does It Mean To Be “Black Butterfly Beautiful”

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