The Toni Morrison Lectures

The Toni Morrison Lectures are sponsored by the Department of African American Studies and Princeton University Press. The lectures are held annually and spotlight the new and exciting work of scholars and writers who have risen to positions of prominence both in academe and in the broader world of letters.

The lectures are published in book form by Princeton University Press and celebrate the expansive literary imagination, intellectual adventurousness and political insightfulness that characterize the writing of Toni Morrison.

Morrison taught creative writing at Princeton for many years. In 2014 she donated a major portion of her papers to the Princeton University Library. As of spring of 2016, the papers are available for all scholars to visit and study.

 

Wole Soyinka presents Commencement Rites at the Tree Creativity

In introducing Soyinka for the third and final lecture of the series, Professor Wendy Laura Belcher, professor of African American Studies and Comparative Literature stated, “The occasion on which Wole Soyinka, the first black man to win the Nobel Prize in literature speaks in honor of Toni Morrison, the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature is not just a historic moment but a poignant one. Unless the world changes radically, it is highly unlikely that you will ever again be in a room honoring two Nobel Prize winners of African descent. Nor in a room honoring two who are part of the literary sublime, great spirits whose command of language is so extraordinary that inspires not just a kind of ecstasy but a change in the course of history itself.”

Robin D.G. Kelley presents Mike Brown’s Body: Meditations on War, Race and Democracy

Taken together, these three lectures by Robin D. G. Kelley perform something of a political autopsy on Mike Brown to reveal both the history of the racial regimes that ultimately left him dead in the streets for four and a half hours, but more importantly, reveal the alternative possibilities for creating democracy rooted in freedom, justice, and decolonization.

Elizabeth Alexander presents “The Idea of Ancestry” in Contemporary Black Art

Elizabeth Alexander has taught and mentored students at many colleges and universities including Haverford College, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, and Smith College. At the University of Chicago, she received the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the oldest and most prestigious teaching award that the University presents. In addition to her work at colleges and universities, Elizabeth Alexander has taught a number of poetry workshops. Most significantly, serving as both faculty and honorary director, Alexander has been an integral member of Cave Canem—an organization dedicated to the development and endurance of African American poetic voices.

Bill T. Jones presents The Life Of An Idea: Investigating Belonging, Appropriating And Adapting In The Context Of Time

Bill T. Jones delivered a series of three talks entitled “The Life of an Idea,” investigating belonging, appropriating and adapting in the context of time in three parts: Past Time, Story/Time, and With Time. Jones is a multi-talented artist, choreographer, dancer, theater director and writer. He has received major honors ranging from a 1994 MacArthur “Genius” Award to Kennedy Center Honors in 2010. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2009 and named “An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure” by the Dance Heritage Coalition in 2000.

Cory Booker presents The Unfinished Journey of America’s Spirit

Booker lives his politics, often in unconventional and creative ways. He has been mayor of New Jersey’s largest city since July 2006 and is the third person to lead Newark since 1970. His stated mission as mayor is to oversee an urban transformation of the city by marshaling its resources to achieve security and economic prosperity. During his first election, Booker rose to prominence by upsetting a four-term incumbent to become councilman. He knocked on tens of thousands of doors, inspiring over a thousand previously discouraged voters to turn out for the first time.

Edwidge Danticat presents Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work

Inspired by Camus’ landmark essay “Create Dangerously” and his definition of art as “a revolt against everything fleeting and unfinished in the world,” Danticat’s lecture focuses on her experiences, and the experiences of other immigrant artists, living and working - culturally, linguistically and politically - between several sometimes violent and unfriendly worlds.

Cornel West presents The Gifts of Black Folk in the Age of Terrorism

The annual Toni Morrison Lecture series was launched October, 20–21, 2006 with two inaugural lectures, titled "The Gifts of Black Folk in the Age of Terrorism", was presented by Cornel West, the Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion.