Toni Morrison Society Honors Nobel Laureate With 70th Birthday Tribute
In what turned out to be a who’s who in academia, the literary community and the entertainment industry, the Toni Morrison Society, together with Alfred A. Knopf publishing company, hosted a 70th birthday tribute for Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison.
Approximately 500 people attended the black-tie affair held at the New York Public Library last month to honor the author who has penned such novels as The Bluest Eye; Song of Solomon, which received the National Book Critics’ Circle Award in 1977; and Beloved, for which Morrison received the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Currently Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University.
Those offering tributes to Morrison that evening included Dr. Ruth Simmons, president of Smith College; Oprah Winfrey; Sonny Mehta, president of Alfred A. Knopf, Morrison’s publisher; Dr. Harold T. Shapiro, president of Princeton University; Dr. Eleanor Traylor, chair of the English department at Howard University who was a classmate of Morrison’s when they were both Howard undergrads; and Dr. Carolyn C. Denard, founder of the Toni Morrison Society and associate professor of English at Georgia State University. Morrison also made remarks as well. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee concluded the dinner with a champagne toast.
“We felt that given her stature in American and African American arts and letters that 70 was a timely moment to honor her in an effective way,” says Dr. Marilyn Mobley McKenzie, president of the Toni Morrison Society and an associate professor of English and African American studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
McKenzie says that Morrison has had a far-reaching influence on society. “She’s a public intellectual. She’s influenced how we think about race and storytelling … how we use language, what we do with language, how we keep language alive and well.”
Hosting the event were Poet Laureate Rita Dove and author Walter Mosley. The event’s honorary co-chairs were opera singer Jessye Norman and Harvard University professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
McKenzie says the birthday tribute was also an opportunity to say to Morrison, “Thank you. We love what you’ve done, and we love what you’re doing.”
The Toni Morrison Society is a group of nearly 400 Morrison scholars from around the world. More than 150 members attended the February celebration. The society sponsors conference panels at the annual meeting of the American Literature Association each spring, and since 1998 has sponsored a biennial conference series devoted to the works of Toni
Morrison. The society’s most recent conference was held in Lorain, Ohio, last fall. As part of the American Literature Association, the society will meet in Cambridge, Mass., in May, and the society’s own conference will take place at Howard University in Washington in the fall
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