In Celebration of Toni Morrison: A Gesture of Love and Reflection

February 17, 2020
Amanda Nagy
Woman seated at bench.
Author Toni Morrison is presented with a stool crafted by Professor Johnny Coleman during the Oberlin Bench by the Road dedication in 2009. Photo credit: Courtesy of Johnny Coleman

On the occasion of novelist Toni Morrison’s birthday on February 18, people from all over the world are invited to participate in a daylong commemoration of her work that will be live-streamed from the Irene and Alan Wurtzel Theater. 

Anyone who’s been inspired by and is interested in expressing their appreciation of Morrison is invited to read an excerpt from one of her books, offer an anecdote, or share their feelings in what organizer Johnny Coleman wants to be a “gesture of love”: an intentional coming together across region, generation, culture, and nation to celebrate her as one village.

“This warrior artist had such a giant global impact and such an individual impact,” says Coleman, an installation artist who is professor of Studio Art and Africana studies. “I think there are individuals dispersed all over this planet who have very direct relationships with the images that Ms. Morrison conjured on the page and with the narratives she called up.”

Coleman explains that he woke up the day after Morrison’s passing on August 5, 2019, with a calling to reach out to the entire world and the local community to converge on an intentional gesture in celebration of her life and work. 

“The gesture is to ask people the world over to pause and reflect, to call in and read any passage from her work that jumped off the page for them, or to reflect upon the ideas that she so clearly articulated,” Coleman says. 

The Wurtzel Theater will be the site of readings and reflections from people calling in from around the world. The event will be live-streamed from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Simultaneously throughout the day in the theater, there will be a continuous procession of people reading selections and speaking about the impact of Morrison’s work in front of a projected image of the Bench by the Road. Coleman will open the day’s ceremonies by placing a replica of a stool that he gave to Morrison during the dedication ceremony in 2009 onto the Bench.

Coleman plans to have additional flowers delivered to the bench on the hour, and a live feed of the bench will be interwoven with the livestream at the theater. 

Another option for the public to offer tributes is through audio recordings. This recording could be the reading of a favorite passage from one of Morrison’s writings or speeches, or a personal memory or feeling. Learn more about submitting an audio recording

Read more about Morrison’s ties to Oberlin and watch the story behind the gesture.  

The Story Behind the Gesture

Oberlin College professors A.G. Miller and Johnny Coleman discuss an intentional daylong celebration on February 18, the birthday of Lorain, Ohio, native and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison.

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