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In Toni Morrison’s Hometown, the Familiar Has Become Foreign

The late novelist was born a few miles from me in Lorain, in a small-town Ohio she called “neither plantation nor ghetto.” But much has changed.
The author outside novelist Toni Morrison's birthplace in Lorain, Ohio, not far from Cleveland.
The author outside novelist Toni Morrison's birthplace in Lorain, Ohio, not far from Cleveland.Brenda P. Conley/CityLab

There’s a bridge in Ohio that connects the town of Elyria to Lorain. A steel mill is just to the right. The Black River runs parallel. I know because my mother told me my father once worked around the corner from the steel mill at the National Gypsum plant. It’s the same route she drove countless times to visit family members. Mom tells me I confuse this bridge with the one Dad drove me across to the Christian school I attended in Lorain. My father is gone now. My mother helps me remember.

Growing up in Elyria, just outside of Cleveland, I remember hearing about a famous black woman writer born in Lorain. I double-checked Google Maps because I didn’t believe Toni Morrison’s childhood home was just five miles north from where I grew up on 4th Street. All these years, I thought, five miles across a bridge connected me to Toni Morrison.