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Honoring Toni Morrison 

Toni Morrison was the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities at UAlbany from 1984-89. (Photo, courtesy of NYSWI)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Jan. 21, 2019) – The University at Albany will celebrate the life and works of novelist Toni Morrison, whose distinctive literary voice forever changed American literature, with a series of events beginning Friday, January 24.

Morrison, who died in August 2019, was the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities at UAlbany from 1984-89. While at UAlbany, she wrote parts of Beloved, a landmark novel of 20th century literature. Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Beloved in 1988 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.

The New York State Writers Institute is leading the University-wide effort to pay tribute to Morrison. There are several key events planned, including:

  • Documentary screening: The Institute’s spring season will kick off at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, with a showing of the new Toni Morrison documentary “The Pieces I Am.” The screening will also be a lead-in for the inaugural Albany Film Festival on March 27-28 on the uptown UAlbany campus. There will be a panel discussion following the film with UAlbany faculty experts Janell Hobson, Kyra Gaunt, Suzanne Lance and author Maureen McCoy, professor emerita of Cornell University.
  • Memorial Exhibit: In honor of Morrison’s birthday, on Tuesday, Feb. 18, the University will unveil a memorial display featuring her chair, photographs, archival papers and other mementos, with remarks by President Havidán Rodríguez and others. The event begins at 10:30 a.m. in the Science Library.
  • Selected Shorts: On Saturday, May 2, a selection of fiction by Morrison will be performed during Selected Shorts, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center’s Main Theatre.
  • Albany Book Festival: The Writers Institute will incorporate the study and celebration of Morrison into the 3rd annual Albany Book Festival on Sept. 12, during the State Author and Poet induction on Friday night, Sept. 11, and the main festival on Saturday.

Assistant Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Tamra Minor said, “As a novelist, editor, educator and cultural and literary critic, Morrison had a way of bringing all of us into the lives of the characters that lived vividly on the pages of her precisely written material. She made us want to know more about things that were different to us — those things that helped us become more culturally aware. She had a way of expanding our minds by providing a look outside our own environs. She led the way toward making us more diverse and inclusive, work we continue today.”

During her time at UAlbany, Morrison was the second featured writer in the history of NYSWI, addressing a packed audience in the Campus Center Ballroom in September, 1984. She also organized “The Birth of Black Cinema,” a three-day symposium at Page Hall in 1988 that included Spike Lee. She brought to campus Ralph Ellison, acclaimed author of The Invisible Man, as well as Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. Morrison wrote “Dreaming Emmett,” a drama about Emmett Till, and the Writers Institute co-sponsored its premiere at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany in 1986. She taught a fiction workshop, mentored UAlbany students, raised consciousness about racial injustice and left an indelible mark.

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