Kelly Writers House and the Center for Africana Studies remembered renowned author Toni Morrison in an event on Tuesday evening that celebrated her legacy as a black woman writer.
Students, faculty, and community members shared passages from the works of Morrison, who died in August. They also watched a documentary about the acclaimed author's life and created collages with images and quotes from Morrison.
College senior Imani Davis and College junior Ashley Codner organized the event. The students, both Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows in the English department, said they were personally affected by Morrison and wanted to give everyone a space to remember her.
“We’re not the only people who have been influenced by her," Codner said. "And to be able to celebrate one of ours, a black woman writer who has achieved such legacy within the canon, is amazing. We want everyone to be able to share in that space and make it communal.”
“She taught me that the work can be rigorous and lush without sacrificing my identity, and that I can write incredible, technically sound work about being a black girl,” Davis added.
After Davis welcomed the audience, attendees stood at the front of the room and read passages from Morrison's work that resonated with them. Some were struck by the detailed imagery and use of language, others by the subject matter.
Margo Natalie Crawford, English professor and director of the Center for Africana Studies, read out the final passage of "Jazz," and said she loved it because of its warmth.
English and Africana Studies professor Herman Beavers shared a scene in a barbershop from "Song of Solomon," focusing on how Morrison breathes life into her characters.
The open forum was followed by a screening of the documentary "Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am," which described how Morrison paved the way for literature that featured African-Americans and shifted away from a genre dominated by white males. The film also highlighted the universal nature of Morrison's work.
Because the opening scene of the documentary characterizes Morrison's work as a collage of black humanity, Davis and Codner gave attendees the chance to make collages of their own. The organizers filled a table with colorful, sparkling paper, images of Morrison, and pages filled with her significant quotes.
Students said they attended the event because they appreciated Morrison’s work and lasting legacy.
“No matter how old you are, or your race, class, or gender, it’s important to understand the impact that Toni Morrison has had,” Temple University junior Cyè Jacobs said.
Wharton senior Kwynasia Young said she attended because Morrison is her mother’s favorite author and because she recently started reading "Song of Solomon."
“It was really cool because when I was younger, I always imagined black characters, even if they weren’t black in the book," Young said of reading "Song of Solomon." "Now I can finally picture them as they were written.”
Davis and Codner said they have studied Morrison’s literature in multiple classes, including “Toni Morrison and the Adventure of the 21st Century” and “Introduction to African American Literature," and hope to continue celebrating the author on campus.
“She was an occasion," Davis said. "And it is one we will not ever have access to again.”
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