The College of Arts and Sciences will continue its celebration of the life of Toni Morrison, M.A. ’55, with a slate of activities this spring, kicking off with a “Toni Morrison at 90” colloquium to honor Morrison’s 90th birthday on Feb. 18.
Other events include a Feb. 19 encore presentation of the Oct. 8 reading of “The Bluest Eye,” which included authors Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tayari Jones and Edwidge Danticat, activist Angela Davis, poets Sonia Sanchez and Kevin Young, as well as U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.
The series will also include a free virtual screening of “The Pieces I Am,” a documentary of Morrison’s life, hosted by Ithaca’s Cinemapolis theatre, with a live discussion of the film on Feb. 20.
“This ‘Toni Morrison at 90’ celebration brings retrospection on her life and work, but from a proximity that retains living recollections of her presence,” said Anne Adams, Cornell professor emerita of Africana studies and one of the organizers of the event.
The five speakers at the Feb. 18 colloquium each enjoyed a personal relationship with Morrison, in addition to their professional activity related to her work.
They are Meredith Gadsby, associate professor of Africana Studies and Comparative American Studies, Oberlin College and Conservatory; Paula Giddings, Elizabeth A. Woodson Professor Emerita of Africana Studies, Smith College; Tayari Jones, author of four novels, including “An American Marriage;” Eleanor Traylor, professor and chair emerita, Department of English, Howard University; and Dominique Bourgois, former editor at the French publishing company Christian Bourgois Éditeur.
Panelists will discuss how Morrison’s art and voice as a public intellectual have impacted writers, critics and readers, and why her work still feels fresh and vital today. The virtual event will begin at 5 p.m. Feb. 18 and is powered by eCornell. Registration is available here.
The Feb. 19 virtual reading of “The Bluest Eye,” also powered by eCornell, will begin at 11 a.m. and continue until roughly 6 p.m. The event includes 122 readers, from current Cornell students to alumni to those noted above. Register here.
The film, “The Pieces I Am,” will be available free for on-demand screening to a limited number of viewers the week of Feb. 13-20, with a live discussion of the movie scheduled for 4 p.m. Feb. 20. More details will be posted shortly on the Cinemapolis website.
Other events planned for this spring include:
- Celebrating Toni Morrison: A Community Book Reading and Conversation, a Zoom event, at 7 p.m. March 15 Coordinated by the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library at Cornell, Black Girl Alchemists at Southside Community Center and Buffalo Street Books. Participants will read the first and last books in Morrison’s corpus, “The Bluest Eye” and “God Help the Child.” Limited copies of both titles will be made available free to community members.
- Cornell University Library will host an online Morrison exhibit, as well as a physical exhibit at Olin Library, beginning later in February. The physical exhibit will run through the fall semester of 2021. These exhibits will include book covers of “The Bluest Eye” in 16 languages, as well as displays focusing on key themes from the book.
- Toni Morrison quilting project, with contributions from multiple quilters from the Ithaca community. This project will kick off Feb. 22. More details are available here.
- “The Bluest Eye” play reading at the Schwartz Center. Listen in as actors take part in a reading of Lydia Diamond’s adaptation of the novel. April 2021, more details to come soon.
All of these events are part of A&S’ Arts Unplugged series, which brings artistic, scientific and creative works into the public sphere for discussion and inspiration.
Morrison earned a B.S. in English in 1953 at Howard University and a master’s degree in American literature in 1955 at 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.
For more information on all of the Cornell Celebrates Toni Morrison events, visit the Arts Unplugged website.
Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.