“It is sheer good fortune to miss somebody long before they leave you.” These words from the dedication of Toni Morrison’s novel “Sula” have inspired a grand celebration on the Virginia Tech campus in honor of the acclaimed author. On Oct. 16, at 7 p.m., Morrison will be present as her friends, colleagues, and admirers gather in Burruss Hall Auditorium to celebrate the American icon’s accomplishments and contributions.
Virginia Tech University Distinguished Professor and poet Nikki Giovanni will be joined by author and poet Maya Angelou and Joanne Gabbin, professor of English at James Madison University and executive director of Furious Flowers Poetry Center, to host “Sheer Good Fortune: Celebrating Toni Morrison.” The event is presented by the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech.
Giovanni envisaged the idea to honor her friend Morrison, and enlisted the help of Angelou and Gabbin to create an evening filled with musical performances, dancing, and readings in honor of the novelist. The evening’s activities will culminate with remarks from Morrison.
"When Toni’s son Slade passed (in 2010) I could only imagine how sad and, well, alone she must be feeling," Giovanni said. "Though she has another son and grandchildren I think it must be just awful to bury a child. I wanted to find a way to throw as much love as we could around her. Nothing will replace that hole in your heart but love can at least kiss the edges. So I called Maya."
Among Morrison’s best-known novels are “The Bluest Eye,” “Sula,” “Song of Solomon,” and “Beloved.” She became the first African American woman to earn a Nobel Prize in 1993 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in May 2012. She earned the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988 for “Beloved,” which was adapted into a film starring Oprah Winfrey in 1998. In 2006, a survey of writers and literary critics by “The New York Times” ranked “Beloved” as the best of work of American fiction for the past 25 years.
The celebration will feature special guests spanning the fields of literature, music, government, and more, who will read excerpts from Morrison's works. Speakers joining Giovanni and Angelou will include:
- India Arie, Grammy Award-winning musician, poet, songwriter, and producer
- Amiri Baraka, author and activist
- Angela Davis, Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz; author; and activist
- Rita Dove, Commonwealth Professor of English, University of Virginia; Pulitzer Prize winner; Poet Laureate of the United States (1993-95); and Poet Laureate of Virginia (2004-06)
- Yusef Komunyakaa, Global Distinguished Professor of English, New York University; and Pulitzer Prize winner
Musical performances and choral readings will be featured throughout the evening and include:
- Virginia Tech Chamber Singers
- Mount Saint Anthony Academy 8th grade choir
- The Boys Chorus, Mount Saint Michael Academy, Bronx, N.Y.
- Akemi Takayama, violinist and Roanoke Symphony Orchestra concertmaster
- Toni Morrison Society
- Wintergreen Women Writers' Collective
Sponsors for “Sheer Good Fortune: Celebrating Toni Morrison” are Virginia Tech’s Office of the President , College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, University Development, Women in Leadership and Philanthropy, and the Furious Flowers Poetry Center.
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