Inside the Milberg Gallery: Sites of Memory - Writing Time

The following is the second 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.

By the mid-1970s, Toni Morrison had established herself as a highly sought-after editor at Random House, where she worked with authors like Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali, Gayl Jones, and Toni Cade Bambara. Meanwhile she also began work on her second and third novels, Sula (1973) and Song of Solomon (1977). Balancing editorial responsibilities with writing often meant that she had to write when and where she could. When a 1993 interviewer asked her how she found the time to write in those years, Morrison explained that the demands of a full-time job and full-time motherhood meant writing took shape in interstitial spaces and unconventional locations.

A green covered writer's notebook with Morrison's handwritten notes shown.

Morrison writer’s notebook, Toni Morrison Papers Special Collections, Princeton University Library. Photographer: Brandon Johnson.


“I’ve written on scraps of paper, in hotels on hotel stationery, in automobiles: If it arrives you know. If you know it really has come, then you have to put it down.” —“Art of Fiction” 1993

Towards the end of 1973, Morrison began writing in day planners, often filling multiple ones from the very same year with meditations, outlines, everyday tasks, and the only surviving drafts of her 1977 novel Song of Solomon. “Writing Time” brings together pages from three different diaries from 1974 and 1975. Together, these pages clarify Morrison’s writing practice long before she had the career space or schedule of a full-time novelist. More complexly, they remind us that time in Morrison’s writing, and the time she spent writing, is recursive, iterative, and multivalent.

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 April 13, 2023.

Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications