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.
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