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Department of English Celebrates Toni Morrison Day

The Department of English celebrated the life and works of author, activist, academic and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison with “Toni Morrison Day” held on Tuesday, Feb. 18. The event was organized with the help of the University’s Guggenheim Memorial Library, the Honors School, Sigma Tau Delta (the international English honor society), the Department of History and Anthropology, and the Department of Art and Design.

Assistant Professor of English Courtney Werner, Ph.D., kicked off the celebration, followed by opening remarks and a keynote speech by Associate Professor Walter Greason, Ph.D. The international English honor society, Sigma Tau Delta, performed a marathon reading of Morrison’s “Sula,” which was read in its entirety by student and faculty volunteers. Professor Anwar Uhuru, Ph.D., led a discussion “Finding Self Regard in the Works of Toni Morrison,” which was then followed by a screening of “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.”

Attendees were also invited to visit the Toni Morrison Gallery in Library Room 102. According to Werner, the exhibit consisted of books written by Morrison in the library’s holdings, as well as an informational, multimedia display board about Morrison’s life, work, and activism put together by members of Monmouth’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, of which Morrison was a member.

The gallery also featured a digital multimedia exhibit that drew on quotes and passages from English faculty and staff about what Morrison’s work has meant to them. Along with this multimedia display, participants were invited to stop by and write their thoughts about Morrison’s impact on their lives.

Monmouth faculty also led a pedagogy panel, “Teaching Toni Morrison,” as well as a scholarship roundtable titled “Morrison: History, Themes, and Craft.” Professor Linh Dao from the Department of Art and Design hosted a collage workshop to end the celebration.

Werner said, “The entire English Department was enthusiastically pleased with our day of celebration. This was the first annual celebration of Toni Morrison at Monmouth University, and as an inaugural event, it was very successful in that we were able to bring together interdepartmental and interdisciplinary collaboration to make the day even more special and meaningful.”

Morrison, Werner noted, had strong ties to New Jersey, writing and teaching at Princeton University.

“More important than her status as a New Jersey author, Morrison has been a proponent of civil rights for decades. She was an activist in her work and deeds and lived a life geared at improving our society. She spoke out for the oppressed and asked those with privilege to critically examine that privilege—and find ways to deconstruct it. She has been a voice of power for the voiceless and a jolt of fresh air with deeply critical works that challenge world views,” Werner said.

Following her death in 2019, Werner explained that several states, including Ohio—where she was born—have proposed her birthday, Feb. 18, as an official “Toni Morrison Day” holiday. Werner said, “Monmouth’s English department absolutely supports the idea of having a celebratory holiday on Toni Morrison’s birthday to honor all she has done, all she has taught us, all she has fought for, and all she has inspired us to do.”