PUL presents exhibition in honor of Toni Morrison at Firestone Library

Toni Morrison exhibition at Firestone Library

As the world mourns the passing of renowned writer Toni Morrison, Princeton University Library presents in her memory a selection of first editions and translations of her novels, on display in the Firestone Library lobby. Photo by Shelley Szwast, Princeton University Library

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

As the world mourns the passing of Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate in Literature and Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus, at Princeton University, Princeton University Library presents in her memory a selection of first editions, translations, corrected typescripts, and a handwritten first draft of her novels, on display in the Firestone Library lobby. On Monday, August 5, the internationally renowned writer passed away at age 88.

The exhibition is a tribute to her profound legacy and impact on writing, culture, and beyond. The materials on display are part of the Toni Morrison Papers, which are permanently housed in PUL’s Special Collections.

The Papers, which opened for research in 2016, are made up of more than 300 boxes of papers and thousands of digital files, including manuscripts, drafts, proofs, and related files pertaining to Morrison’s published novels on the African American experience. Her 11 novels, translated into more than 20 languages, are “The Bluest Eye” (1970), “Sula” (1973), “Song of Solomon” (1977), “Tar Baby” (1981), “Beloved” (1987), “Jazz” (1992), “Paradise” (1997), “Love” (2003), “A Mercy” (2008), and “Home” (2012). 

Also included in the Papers are similar materials for her play “Dreaming Emmett,” children’s books, short fiction, song lyrics, an opera libretto, lectures, and non-fiction writing as well as extensive literary and professional correspondence, fan mail, diaries and appointment books, photographs, audiobooks, video tapes, juvenilia, memorabilia, course materials, annotated student papers, academic office files, and press clippings. 

Morrison’s literary and professional correspondence, including letters from Maya Angelou, Houston Baker, Toni Cade Bambara, Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee, Leon Higginbotham, Randall Kennedy, Ishmael Reed, Alice Walker, and others, can also be found within the collection. 

Among the iconic author and professor’s many literary awards and honors over the past five decades were the National Book Critics Circle Award for “Song of Solomon” and a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for “Beloved,” which the New York Times described as “the best work of American fiction of the last 25 years.” In 1996, Morrison also gave the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, established by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and her international honors include Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1993 and Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur in 2010. When she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, the jury noted that the author, “in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” 

Her impact went far beyond her writing. At Princeton, she held the Robert F. Goheen chair in the humanities from 1989 until her retirement in 2006. She created and developed the Princeton Atelier in 1994, bringing together undergraduates in interdisciplinary collaborations with acclaimed creative artists and performers, such as Gabriel García Márquez, Yo Yo Ma, Peter Sellars, and the American Ballet Theatre. In May 2012, President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 2014, when Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber announced that Princeton would be the permanent home of the Toni Morrison Papers, he said, “We at Princeton are fortunate that Professor Morrison brought her brilliant talents as a writer and teacher to our campus 25 years ago, and we are deeply honored to house her papers and to help preserve her inspiring legacy.” 

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in 1931 and acquired her love of books, reading, and storytelling in her native city of Lorain, Ohio. She received a bachelor’s degree from Howard University in 1953 and a master’s degree in American literature from Cornell University in 1955. 

To learn more about Toni Morrison’s life and legacy, visit the University story. For more information about the Toni Morrison Papers, contact Don Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts.

Written by Don Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, with Stephanie Ramírez, Library Communications

Media contact: Barbara Valenza, Director, Library Communications