Toni Morrison Society Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Kate Gill, News Editor

A standing ovation ushered novelist Toni Morrison onstage as students, faculty and community members awaited the convocation in Finney Chapel last Friday evening. The Toni Morrison Society, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, was largely responsible for the event, but Morrison’s visit also speaks to the fledgling relationship she has forged with the College in recent years.

In August of 2012, the Toni Morrison Society, founded in 1993, moved its headquarters to Mudd library. On the first floor sits a small administrative office that, according to Founder and Board Chair of the Morrison Society Carolyn Denard, is one of many library sites –– including the Auburn Avenue Library in Atlanta, the New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

After Morrison won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993 –– five months after the organization was founded –– her society burgeoned, now boasting over 600 members.

“When we were looking for space here,” Denard said, “there was a space available in the Oberlin library in Mudd Center, and we were delighted, because of our history, to be housed in the Oberlin library.”

The Convocation was framed as a sit-down with Morrison, and featured College President Marvin Krislov and Gillian Johns, associate professor of English, who asked a series of questions –– both personal and professional, in reference to Morrison’s work.

“So many students have been taught to write what they know,” Morrison said of her teaching methods. “I tell my students: You don’t know anything. You’re 18, I don’t want to hear about your girlfriend or your grandmother. Forget about it. Write about something you don’t know.”

According to Krislov, he was not scheduled to participate, but ultimately replaced Dr. Meredith Gadsby, associate professor and chair of africana studies, when her travel plans went awry. “She is here in spirit,” Krislov said at the convocation. Although Morrison spoke at Oberlin in the spring of 2012, her consecutive return implies a deeper affinity for the College.

“Miss Morrison always has an open invitation,” said Denard in an email to the Review. “This time, President [Krislov] invited her to speak for the convocation, and it coincided with our Anniversary; it was a great alignment of events.”

President Krislov echoed Denard’s sentiment, remarking in an interview that, “If it were left up to me, I would have her here every semester, every week, whenever she wants.”

Morrison, who has been to campus on three separate occasions since 2009, was born eight miles shy of Oberlin in Lorain County, and through family and friends, has maintained a connection to the area. But aside from her more obvious geographical ties, Morrison seems to appreciate Oberlin as a locus of social justice.

In separate interviews, both Krislov and Denard referenced Morrison’s fondness for Oberlin and its history.

“Oberlin has a history she admires,” Denard said. “ [It was] The first institution in the country to admit American Americans and women. [Morrison does] indeed feel a connection because it is close to home.”