Inside the Milberg Gallery: Sites of Memory - Wonderings and Wanderings

The following is the fourth 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. 

“Part of this talk is a substitute for an entry or series of entries in a journal or notebook that I have never kept. The kind of writer’s journal, many of which I have read, which contains ideas for future work, sketches of scenes, observations and meditations. But especially the thoughts that undergird problems and solutions the writer encounters during a work-in-progress.

I don’t keep such notebooks for a number of reasons, one of which is the leisure time available to me, the other is the form my meditations take. Generally it is a response to some tangled, seemingly impenetrable, dis-ease; an unquietness connected to a troubling image. Other times I circle around an incident, a remark or an impression that is peculiar enough to first provoke curiosity, then mysterious enough to keep recurring. ...All the time I am ruminating on these things I am not searching for a theme or a novelistic subject, I am just wondering. Most of this wondering is wandering, and disappears sooner or later. But occasionally, within or among these wonderings, a larger question poses itself.

Manuscript notes for "Paradise" (1998), Toni Morrison Papers, Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Manuscript notes for 'Paradise' (1998), Toni Morrison Papers, Special Collections, Princeton University Library. Photographer: Brandon Johnson

I don’t write it or my musings down because to do so would give them a gravity they may not deserve. I need to be or to feel pursued by the question in order to be convinced that the further exploration is bookworthy. When that happens at some point, a scene or a bit of language arrives. It seems to me a waste of valuable time to sketch or record that when, if it is interesting enough to embellish, I could be tracking it by actually turning it directly into a fictional formulation. If I learn that I am wrong about its staying power or its fertility, I can always throw it away. So I get out the yellow legal pad, and see what happens.”

 - Toni Morrison, “The Trouble With Paradise” 1996

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 May 11, 2023.

Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications