Inside the Milberg Gallery: Sites of Memory - Beginnings

The following is the first in a series of inside looks at the current exhibition in Princeton University Library’s Ellen and Leonard Milberg Gallery in Firestone Library - “Toni Morrison: Sites of Memory.” 

Curated by Autumn Womack, René Boatman, Jennifer Garcon, Kierra Duncan and Andrew Schlager, the exhibition documents Morrison’s creative process through her research materials, manuscript drafts, day planners, and correspondence. 

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. Raised among a family of storytellers, Morrison showed an interest in a range of creative expressions from an early age. In high school she worked as an editor on her school’s newspaper and as an undergraduate at Howard University, she read classics, joined a theater group, the Howard Players, and was a member of the Modern Dance Club. While pursuing a masters degree in English at Cornell University, she studied William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf and wrote her first dated short story. Two years later, as a faculty member at Howard, she joined a writers group and sketched out what would become “The Bluest Eye.”

Handwritten draft of “The Bluest Eye” (1970) on yellow legal paper and other early manuscript drafts

Handwritten draft of “The Bluest Eye” (1970) and early manuscript drafts, Toni Morrison Papers Special Collections, Princeton University Library. Photographer: Brandon Johnson

The section “Beginnings” gathers items the years leading up to the 1970 publication of “The Bluest Eye” as Morrison explored different genres of storytelling and worked to develop her craft. Against this backdrop of her early life’s archive of performance, editorial work, revision, and writing, we see how The Bluest Eye and Toni Morrison as an authorial presence emerged from a wide and sweeping creative life.

The exhibition is open through June 4, 2023 at the Milberg Gallery in Firestone Library. Please visit the website to view the gallery’s opening hours and for information about how to visit.

Discover more through the Discovering Toni Morrison Digital Princeton University Library Portal.

Published March 30, 2023.

Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications