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Toni Morrison: A Friend of Mind and Heart

April 16, 2007

Mary Ann Travis

Endings -- the heart, the seed, the meaning of her books -- are where Toni Morrison began on Thursday night (April 12) in McAlister Auditorium on Tulane's uptown campus.


Acclaimed writer and Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison reads from one of her books in her appearance at Tulane University on Thursday (April 12), which was sponsored by the Tulane English department and the Creative Writing Fund. (Photos by Paula Burch-Celentano)

The Nobel laureate and bestselling, prizewinning author drew a crowd of more than 1,800 people in a historic event for the university -- and the city of New Orleans.

Morrison never uttered the K-word. But without directly mentioning the storm, her language of affirmation, self-discovery and reconciliation soothed and delighted her listeners in a community still scarred and burdened by the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.

Greeted by a standing ovation, Morrison read excerpts from Beloved, Jazz, Paradise and Love. She chose endings partly "to dispel the notion that my books are miserable and sad and gloomy and depressing," she said. "If something good and important happens at the end, it's a good thing."

In Beloved -- Morrison's powerful story of slavery and its aftermath -- Paul D remembers Sixo describing what he felt about the Thirty-Mile Woman: "She is a friend of my mind. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind."

Morrison said as she invents her characters, her job as a writer is "to speak as them and to bear witness to them." Jazz and civil rights, church-going and spiritual matters, ghosts and demons are African-American cultural themes on which Morrison has put her "fingerprint."


Students, members of the Tulane community and New Orleans residents fill McAlister Auditorium on the Tulane campus to hear a reading by author Toni Morrison. The audience greeted Morrison with a standing ovation.

"I like to be interested in my own books," she said. Morrison closed her appearance by taking questions from audience members.

Tiffany Barnes, a Tulane double major in English and African and African diaspora studies, asked Morrison about her writing habits. Morrison said, "I write every day -- every day when I have something to write. If I don't, I don't." As for revision, Morrison said, "I do it all the time."

Even as she read aloud from her books published decades ago, she said she is revising. "Oh, now I know the right word."

Gaurav Desai, chair of the English department and associate professor, said that Morrison's visit to Tulane's campus, supported by the Creative Writing Fund, is "a historic event for the city and the university." The anonymous gift that established the fund is itself "a sign of faith in the English department" and provides bright hope for the future.

Long an admirer of Morrison, Susan Larson, book editor for The Times-Picayune, attended the standing-room-only event. She said, "It did exactly what the organizers wanted it to do. Its diverse audience cut across age groups, ethnicity and gender. In that way, it was the most healing thing for the city at this time."

Felipe Smith, associate professor of English, introduced Morrison at the start of her evening of endings. He said, "Her appearance represents an opportunity to reflect on how she affects us -- and how the city of New Orleans repays artists."

Like a jazz musician improvising, Smith riffed on the famous line at the end of Beloved where Paul D says to Sethe, the novel's heroine, "You your best thing, Sethe." Morrison might as well be saying, said Smith, "You're your own best thing, New Orleans. You are."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000