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Luminaries Honor Toni Morrison Before Retirement


A party for author Toni Morrison drew stars such as former President Bill Clinton and actor Morgan Freeman, as well as officials and students from Princeton University, where the author has taught for 17 years before announcing her retirement this spring.

Morrison, 75, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her 1987 book Beloved, which told the story of a former slave haunted by the ghost of her murdered child. Morrison began her career at Princeton in 1989.

During the Friday ceremony at the Time Warner Center, which was planned before her announcement but at times felt like a retirement party, Morrison was honored and praised for her literary contributions.

“You can be laughing or crying, mad or happy, full of pride or covered in shame,” Clinton, who Morrison once called America’s “first Black president,” told the crowd of hundreds about Morrison’s works, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported for Saturday’s newspapers.

“You can feel like you just started a second life or that death is walking right by your side. But you can’t retire. You have to engage,” said Clinton.

Morrison, an Ohio native who was born Chloe Anthony Wofford, began writing in 1970. She won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993. This year, Beloved was deemed the best American novel of the past 25 years by a group of critics and writers assembled by The New York Times Book Review. Some of her other works, including Jazz, Song of Solomon and The Bluest Eye have won her worldwide acclaim.

Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman praised Morrison for her contributions to both literature and the university.

“Although we are proud to call you one of our own, you have never let us define you,” Tilghman said. “Rather, you have helped the university define itself. May the coming years be as intellectually engaging and rewarding to you as your presence at our university has been.”

A Princeton class about Morrison’s life and work that was taught by Dr. Cornel West doubled in size last year when she visited as a guest speaker.

“I’ve been touched by her brilliance,” said Princeton senior Elan Nieves. “I’m definitely glad I got to experience that while I was at Princeton. The kids who are coming next year are going to miss an amazing scholar.”

Associated Press

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