In this final Inspirations from the Bookshelf of 2019, Patrice Lawrence takes the chance to celebrate Toni Morrison, who changed her life.

I loved reading as a child. Doctor Dolittle, Mary Poppins, the hobbits, Rat, Mole, Heidi, water-babies, and George, Timmy and the rest of the Famous Five all scaffolded my childhood imagination. I sailed lakes with the Swallows and Amazons and plunged down rabbit holes with Alice. But, of course, none of these characters looked like me. It didn't even occur to me think that a character could look like me. So the thought that I could be an author wasn't even a possibility.

I enjoyed English Literature at school, and I was lucky that my mum was passionate about Shakespeare and English poetry, so it gave me a head start. In the last year of secondary school, we studied To Kill A Mockingbird. A great book, but it reinforced my belief that stories about people of colour are only valid if told by white writers. The stories that I wrote and eventually sent off to magazines and publishers were always about white characters. The other stories, the children's ones, were written about, and for, my brothers. I wrote and illustrated stories about my toddler brother, Lee, who took off with a purple rabbit on a giant carrot over the moon for adventures. Perhaps, without thinking about it, I was trying to redress the lack of children like him in any of the books we borrowed from the library.

I discovered Toni Morrison by accident. It was in my twenties, before I moved to London. I found Beloved in a bookshop in Brighton, read the blurb and was intrigued. I had never read anything like that. It was poetic, brutal, challenging and enlightening. It was about a black woman written by a black woman and, it felt, written for black women. I suddenly realised that not only could I be a writer, but I could write books for people like me to read. Before that, I had never thought that people of colour were entitled to have books that were written for us. Every book I had read before had been filtered through white experience, the only experience that I thought was valid in publishing.

The Bluest Eye is about children, but not for children. It starts by recalling the early reading books so common in the 1960s and 1970s.

Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane live in the green-and-white house. They are very happy.

Pecola does not live in a family like that. She is trapped by poverty, the darkness of her skin, segregation and the brutality within her own family. It's a novel that tackles taboos including the fault lines within our own communities.

I was devastated to hear of Toni Morrison's death. She taught me that there really are other stories and that they are important. She taught me that people like me can be writers, and those who have been pushed to the edges deserve their stories to be told.


Patrice Lawrence is an award-winning writer of stories for children and young people. Orangeboy, her debut book for young adults, was shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award, won the Bookseller YA Book Prize and Waterstones Prize for Older Children's Fiction, and has been shortlisted for many regional awards. Indigo Donut, her second book about young adults, was published in July 2017. It was book of the week in The Times, Sunday Times and Observer, and one of The Times top children's books in 2017. Both books have been nominated for the Carnegie Award.

Follow Patrice on Twitter: @LawrencePatrice
Her website:

Photograph credits - the author's own

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