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Authors, scholars celebrate Morrison in ‘Bluest Eye’ reading

Authors Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tayari Jones and Edwidge Danticat, and U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, will join scholars from around the country to celebrate Toni Morrison, M.A. ’55, as the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) hosts a livestreamed reading of her first novel, “The Bluest Eye.”

The Oct. 8 event – the first in a yearlong series, ”Cornell Celebrates Toni Morrison” – will include 50 other participants in a full reading of the novel, on the 50th anniversary of its publication. Livestream attendees will also hear portions of the book read in French, Spanish, Portuguese and German.

Toni Morrison

The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and be streamed on eCornell and on Facebook; registration is required.

“We are delighted to host these events to celebrate the life and works of Toni Morrison, whose words ring as insightful and illuminating today as they did 50 years ago,” said Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of A&S. “We are also thrilled that so many noted authors and scholars are taking part in our reading – we hope it will stimulate renewed interest in Morrison’s work among a new generation of students and the broader community.”

“The Bluest Eye” reading is the fourth event in the A&S Arts Unplugged series, which brings artistic, scientific and creative works into the public sphere for discussion and inspiration.

Other events in the Morrison celebration include:

  • Toni Morrison Teach-In: Oct. 15, 4:30-5:30 p.m. Cornell faculty will discuss Morrison’s work and her impact, then participate in a live Q&A with the audience during this online event. Pre-recorded talks will be available on the Arts Unplugged website by Oct. 8.
  • Roundtable Discussion with Morrison Scholars: Feb. 18, 2021, 4:30-6 p.m. This event will coincide with what would have been Morrison’s 90th birthday. Scholars from around the world will discuss her literary legacy and scholarly work. This event will be livestreamed.
  • “The Bluest Eye” play reading: spring 2021, time and date to be announced. A reading of Lydia Diamond’s adaptation, at the Schwartz Center.
  • Reading groups: on campus and at community locations. Details about book choice, times and locations to be announced.
  • A Toni Morrison exhibit: at Olin Library, fall 2020 through spring 2021, including photos, videos and copies of Morrison’s works in multiple languages.
  • Toni Morrison quilting project: With contributions from quilters across the country. Details to be announced.
  • “The Pieces I Am” film screening, place and date to be announced. This 2019 documentary about Morrison examines her life, works and themes throughout her literary career, and features former President Barack Obama, and TV personality and author Oprah Winfrey.
  • A new one-credit fall course: English 2602, The Bluest Eye at 50.

“Toni Morrison was a global literary icon produced in part by Cornell University and therefore is a continuing member of our extended family even after her passing,” said Carole Boyce Davies, Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters and professor of Africana studies and English, who is one of the faculty members planning the events.

Morrison, who died in 2019 at age 88, received a bachelor’s in English from Howard University in 1953, and her master’s in American literature from Cornell. An A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell from 1997 to 2003, Morrison returned to the Ithaca campus numerous times over the years.

She was the Robert F. Goheen Professor Emerita of the Humanities at Princeton, where she taught from 1989 to 2006.

She wrote 11 novels that explored and illuminated the Black American experience, including “Beloved,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, and “Song of Solomon,” which received a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977. In 1993, Morrison became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Tompkins County Public Library in Ithaca is ordering extra digital copies of her works for patrons to check out online; on Oct. 28, staff will host an online Zoom book club based on “The Bluest Eye.” Visit https://www.tcpl.org/ or the book club sign up.

Please note: “The Bluest Eye” will be read in its entirety, and includes racially charged language and scenes of sexual violence.

For more information on all “Cornell Celebrates Toni Morrison” events, visit the Arts Unplugged website.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Gillian Smith