A mere dozen miles from the site where Toni Morrison was born Chloe Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, a day-long gathering will mark what would have been the novelist’s 89th birthday.

“In Celebration of Toni Morrison: A Gesture of Love and Reflection” will be live-streamed from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from the Oberlin College campus. Organizer Johnny Coleman, professor of Studio Art and Africana studies, began working on the event the day after Morrison died in August.

“This warrior artist had such a giant global impact and such an individual impact,” he said. “I think there are individuals dispersed all over this planet who have very direct relationships with the images that Ms. Morrison conjured on the page and with the narratives she called up.”

Organizers hope citizens will stop by the Irene and Alan Wurtzel Theater to give an excerpt reading, or record an audio tribute to underscore how Morrison’s work influenced their lives.

In September, Cleveland Book Week featured reflections from writers who followed Morrison into the Anisfield-Wolf canon — Walter Mosley, ’98; Marilyn Chin, ’15; Kevin Young, ’18; Brent Staples, ’95; and Jesmyn Ward, ’18.

“Morrison centered blackness, in ways unparalleled, though she was not alone in doing so,” Young stated. “She helped us see ourselves and free ourselves and remind us that as she put it, the function of freedom is to free someone else.”

Walter Mosley, who also praised Morrison in 2019’s “The Pieces I Am” documentary, spoke on his friend of more than 20 years: “Of all her acts in the world of literature, Morrison almost single-handedly raised Black America to an international platform without us losing our identity.”

Marilyn Chin recited her new poem, “Praise (For Toni Morrison),” ending with “Praise holy, holy Chloe/Who shall finally reclaim her name.” A framed copy of the poem will be installed in the newly remodeled Morrison room at the Lorain Public Library. It will mark her birthday by hosting a rededication ceremony at 2 p.m. featuring members of the Morrison/Wofford family.

Watch our full tribute below and find more information on Oberlin’s “Gesture of Love” celebration

Marilyn Chin
Praise (For Toni Morrison)

Praise Sula, Praise Nell, Praise Sethe
Praise Bride and her blue-black beauty
  
Praise Valerian, Praise Sweetness, Praise Rain
Praise Pecola, forgive Cholly

May Milkman Dead find his wings

Praise Medallion, Praise Shalimar, Praise Mercy
Praise the blessed earth Lorraine

Praise the gateless gate of eternity

Praise the Great Mother’s legacy
Praise holy, holy Chloe

Who shall finally reclaim her name

Henry Louis Gates Jr. rarely speaks about one of his most publicized moments — the July 2009 arrest by Sgt. James Crowley at his Cambridge home, leading to the infamous “beer summit” at the Obama White House.

Now the multi-hyphenate — historian, TV host, executive producer, editor, Harvard professor and Anisfield-Wolf jury chair — reflects on that incident, some 11 years later, in a new interview with New York Times magazine.

“President Obama made an innocent comment that the arrest was stupid, which it was,” he told the publication. Then all of a sudden all these racists are beating up on him. My whole attitude was channeled through the desire to protect our first black president.”

Throughout the interview, Gates toggles from subject to subject, from myths of the slave trade to his thoughts on the remaining Democratic presidential candidates. (No official endorsement yet but he’s got his eye on Michael Bloomberg.)

A few highlights:

On his perspective of the beer summit” incident:

I thought that it would be hubristic and dishonest if I compared what happened to me to what happens to black people in the inner city….Well, that might be related to police excesses and abuses, but it’s a far end of the scale, and I was able to reverse what happened to me, unlike an Eric Garner.

On America’s responsibility for reparations:

I do believe that it’s impossible for any rational person not to understand the cost of 400 years of slavery and then another century of Jim Crow. We have to find ways to compensate for that cost. Affirmative action, to me, is a form of reparations. So is health care — Obamacare or a variant. And there’s reform of public education. One of the most radical things we could do to reform public-school education would be to equalize the amount of money spent per student in every school. That is never going to happen, but that would constitute a radical shift.

On the quiet objective of his PBS show, “Finding Your Roots”:

I’m trying to use the popularity of “Finding Your Roots” to get these political messages in there without being a scold. I am trying to deconstruct notions of racial purity. There is no racial purity. We are all diverse. Showing diversity is important to me politically and insofar as we can achieve that, our series has an educational value for the larger country, particularly at a time when we’re at Redemption [the period of white rollback of black progress following Reconstruction] redux.

Read the full interview here.