Friday, February 25, 2011

Toni Morrison's 80th Birthday Celebration at the LOC

Prof. Schreiber toasts Toni Morrison (seated, at left) at her birthday celebration at the Library of Congress last week.
This guest post is from Prof. Evelyn Schreiber.
 
On Feb. 18, Profs. Evelyn Schreiber, Jennifer James, and H.C. Carrillo attended the 80th Birthday Reception for Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison at the Madison Hall of the Library of Congress. Prof. Schreiber was co-chair of the event with Dana Williams, chair of the English Department at Howard University.
In addition to chairing the event, Prof. Schreiber contributed a chapter entitled "Personal and Cultural Memory in A Mercy" to the Festschrift which was presented to Ms. Morrison at the Reception. This book, entitled Memory and Meaning: Essays in Honour of Toni Morrison, contains tributes by scholars and artists, including Princeton Professor Cornel West, and poets Rita Dove and Sonia Sanchez. 
 
Leftovers of Morrison's amazing cake were consumed in the English Department lounge!
The reception included a performance of Songs of Edward "Duke" Ellington by the opera singer, Jessye Norman; Greetings from the President of Howard University, Sidney A. Ribeau; tributes from classmate (Howard '51) Mary Wilburn and Professor of Religion David Carrasco, Harvard University; music by the Howard Jazz Trio; remarks by Dr Carolyn Denard, the founder of the Toni Morrison Society; and a proclamation by DC Mayor Vincent Gray that Feb. 18th, 2011 was Toni Morrison Day in the city of Washington. Michel Martin of NPR, who hosted the evening, read out a birthday tribute from Barack and Michelle Obama.
The co-chairs gave the closing Birthday Toasts as the cake was presented and champagne was served.  Here is Prof. Schreiber's toast, which contains words from all nine of Morrison's novels and riffs on various Morrison "keywords."
Professor Morrison, tonight we have come from all over the world to celebrate your birthday and the community that you have created through your works.  Thank you for enabling us “to pass on” to our students compelling histories and complex emotions, providing each generation with a vision of their past, insight into the present, and a guide to the future. 

Your work teaches us what it means to be human, to recognize our limitations, and to carry on despite them.  To believe in the power of love, family, and community and to verbalize our personal and communal pain as well as our triumphs.  We thank you for your generosity:  you share, you nurture, you listen.  Your works profoundly affect the lives of your readers.  To read Toni Morrison is to be altered forever:  you “remake” us as readers and as human beings.  You teach us how to “nourish the soil so that seeds can grow,” to not settle for a “secondhand” self, to “name and claim” ourselves, to recognize our “templates” and to rejoice in them, to “feel our way” and see what “certain kind” of people we can be, to allow us to “hum,” to “fly,” to be “Complete,” and to be our “own best thing.”  We eagerly await your work to come.

I asked my students what I should say to you in this toast and they wanted you to know that you have given them something that no amount of therapy ever could—the ability to embrace personal history as something to celebrate and to appreciate what makes them unique.  Thank you for helping us sift through the voices of our culture to find our own healing voices.  Thank you for the academic, personal, and psychic home that you provide. 

On your birthday and always, know that you are loved as you “have loved us all.”

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Toni Morrison's 80th Birthday Celebration at the LOC
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