Remembering Toni Morrison

 Toni Morrison, (flanked by Quincy Troupe & and Stanley Diamond’s shoulder), at a benefit for Chinua Achebe, who’d just relocated to the US after a debilitating car accident in Lagos, Philadelphia Museum of Art, October 28, 1990 (photo by Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate)

The great African-American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, and fearless social commentator, Toni Morrison passed away on this day, August 5, 2019 – aged 88.

A greatly-missed voice.

Here is her detailed New York Times obituary
(and here, an op-ed, published in the New York Times a few days later, by Angela Davis and Farah Jasmine Griffin – a necessary reminder – “Toni Morrison, Revolutionary Political Thinker”)

More obituary notices –  from The Washington PostThe Amsterdam News NPR,  PBS, ABC, the BBC, CBC, The Guardian… The list could go on and on.

A memorial tribute was held for Morrison on November 21, 2019, in New York at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine – see here

Back in 1993,  she was the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature
Listen to her remarkable and moving acceptance speech 

Three more remarkable Morrison speeches – her Commencement speech to the Graduation Class of Wellesley College in 2004
– at Cornell – “on language, evil and “the white gaze”  (from March 2013)
and at George Washington University – “An Evening With Toni Morrison” (an address given two years earlier)

Here she is in one of many encounters with her good friend, Oprah Winfrey (this from 2000)

In a notorious interview with Australian journalist Jana Wendt, (back in 1998), Morrison is asked why she both “marginalizes” white people in her work and if she’d ever write “sustainably” about white character!  Morrison interjects with, “You can’t understand how powerfully racist that question is, can you?”, keeping her composure, although obviously appalled, before carefully breaking it all down for her.  See that (and the rest of that interview) here (the interview segment begins at approximately three minutes in)

Allen encountered her on a number of occasions,  notably, in 1993, alongside Leslie Marmon Silko, Francine DuPlessix Gray, Maxine Hong Kingston, William Least Heat-Moon, William Gass, Gary Snyder, Robert Rees, and others, as one of a delegation of American writers to China, organized by Norman Cousins under the auspices of the American Academy of Arts and Letters   

New York Times journalist, Harrison Salisbury was also on the jaunt and recounts that occasion here

Zhang Jianhong (“Li Hong”), one of the Chinese writers, remembers it from the other side

American and Chinese writers attending a meeting in Beijing. In the first row are Leslie Marmon Silko (left), Francine Du Plessix Gray (third from left), Allen Ginsburg (fifth from left), Harrison Salisbury (fifth from right), Toni Morrison (fourth from right) and Maxine Hong Kingston (second from right). Gary Snyder is fifth from left on the second row

Toni Morrison – Forbidden City, Beijing, 1984, (as member of American Academy of Arts & Letters Delegation to China – Photo by Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries/ Allen Ginsberg Estate)

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