Today, we remember Toni Morrison, who died yesterday at age 88. This incomparable woman of letters, a Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate (the first black woman to win that award), is best known for Beloved, The Bluest Eye, and Song of Solomon.
A Radcliffe Medalist, Morrison served as an inspiration to many here at Radcliffe, and in April 2001, she delivered “‘Goodbye to All That’: Race, Surrogacy, and Farewell,” the marquee lecture in a series celebrating the founding of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
“In 2007, our former dean Drew Gilpin Faust, then president elect of Harvard University, awarded Toni Morrison the Radcliffe Medal for Morrison’s extraordinary accomplishments and impact on people in the US and around the world—as an author, educator, and scholar,” says Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin, who is also the Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School and a professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “We at Radcliffe, a place that has long celebrated the history and voices of women, are deeply saddened by the loss of Toni Morrison. We are heartened that the novelist’s vast and brilliant body of work exploring the enduring significance of race in the American experience will live on in hearts and minds. We are grateful for this legacy.”
Her friendships with other luminaries and intellectual breadth mean that traces of her life and work can also be found within the archives of our Schlesinger Library. In the June Jordan Papers, a 1977 photo shows the two authors smiling in a group—The Sisterhood—that also includes Alice Walker, Nana Maynard, Ntzoke Shange, and Vertamae Grosvenor. Morrison’s presence can be felt even more keenly in the more recently acquired papers of Angela Y. Davis, a longtime friend: Morrison edited early drafts of Angela Davis: An Autobiography (1974) and Women, Race, and Class (1983), and these marked-up manuscripts are now housed at the Library.
“Toni Morrison’s impact on American culture is unparalleled. She brought black radical feminists to the mainstream public as an editor at Random House, working with Angela Davis, Toni Cade Bambara, and Gayl Jones, among others,” said Elizabeth Hinton, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Departments of History and of African and African American Studies in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Morrison’s own writings gave us a deeper understanding of the contours of racism and gender oppression that shaped national conversations for nearly a half century. Although she is no longer with us, Morrison will continue to change the world as future generations engage with her powerful body of work.” Hinton is curating the upcoming Schlesinger exhibition Angela Davis: Freed by the People, which includes items pertaining to Morrison.