21 Years Ago Today Toni Morrison Received The Nobel Prize for Literature.
A FEW years before that, I organized a program in her honor at the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill in Boston, when she came to town to receive an honorary degree at Harvard. I was the curator at the Meeting House, and was able to arrange Toni Morrison’s visit thanks to her close friend, Florence Ladd.
There was a line of people around the block. Camille Cosby was there, sociologist Kenneth Clark, other notables. We ran out of space and sadly had to turn some away; fortunately we made a video. Morrison said she would be pleased to attend, but that she would be too tired, after all the Harvard events that day, to make any remarks beyond acknowledging the gathering. So we had a symposium on the raised podium area with excellent talks by Marcia Lloyd, Clyde Taylor, and others.
I gave the welcome, and Museum board chairman, the late Henry Hampton, spoke. I also made that the occasion for the donation of a signed first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s poems. It had originally been offered to Morrison, but I lobbied for it to go to the Museum and she VERY graciously agreed. Student intern, Kelly Stupple, received the volume for the collection.
AND THEN: when Morrison came forward to deliver the few words we expected, she went to the podium, said how moved she was by the evening, and that she would like to read something she was working on (!). She read for about ten gorgeous minutes. Followed by an extended standing ovation, of course. The feeling in the room was wonderfully festive and congenial.
Some months later, when I read her new book as soon as it came out, I discovered, along with others, that we had the incredible honor of hearing the beautiful final section of “JAZZ” as it was still coming into being.