PRINCETON, N.J. -- Nobel laureate Toni Morrison is now forever immortalized on a stamp honoring the prolific writer, editor, scholar and mentor that was unveiled Tuesday morning in a tribute at Princeton University, where she taught for almost two decades.
Guest speakers, some who had close personal relationships with Morrison and spoke over Zoom, included former President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey, as well as the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden.
The monthslong series of events are paying tribute to Morrison, who died in 2019 at age 88. The tribute opened with a recording of Morrison's voice playing in the auditorium, reciting a passage on Harlem from her 1992 novel “Jazz": “Nobody says it’s pretty here; nobody says it’s easy either. What it is is decisive, and if you pay attention to the street plans, all laid out, the City can’t hurt you.”
Later, an all-Black acapella group sang the popular hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing," which is known as the Black national anthem.
The dedication was made by Michael Cadden, a longtime Princeton lecturer who co-taught courses with Morrison, and formerly served as chair of the Lewis Center of the Arts.
Cadden introduced Pritha Mehra, the chief information officer and executive vice president of the United States Postal Service, who said that the postal service is proud to commemorate Morrison.
“Our new stamp will be seen by millions, and forever remind us of the power of her words and the ideas she brought to the world," Mehra said.
Photographer Deborah Feingold, whose portrait of Morrison taken for Time magazine's Jan. 19, 1998 cover appears on the stamp, also spoke at the event.
Morrison’s son, Ford Harrison, and his family were also in attendance Tuesday.
“Anyone who was lucky enough to meet (Morrrison), knows that she was just as captivating in person as she was on the page," said Ruha Benjamin, a professor of African American studies who read a letter written by the Obamas. “We hope that this postage stamp would make her smile, that she would love the idea of helping us connect through writing once again,” she said.
“Toni may no longer be with us, but we know that her words will endure — challenging our conscience and calling us to greater empathy,” Benjamin said.
In 1993, Morrison became the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Winfrey talked about starting her book club in 1996 with Morrison's novel from the same year “Song of Solomon” in mind. “Over the years, I selected four of Toni Morrison’s books to read as a community more than any other author,” she said Tuesday in a pre-recorded video.
Winfrey has recalled that when Morrison made her first appearance on “The Oprah Show,” she talked about raising her boys as a single mother and left many in the audience moved. “I shared with her that, ‘Ms. Morrison, sometimes your books are challenging and difficult for some people to read.' And she said, ‘Well think about how difficult they are to write,'" Winfrey said.
“But difficult or not, what she was able to do through her words (is) bring people from all over the country and the world together in an entirely new experience," Winfrey continued.
In addition to the events this month, an exhibition exploring Morrison’s creative process will be held at the university library through June 4. Drawn from her archives, the exhibit features more than 100 pieces, some of which have never been seen — including manuscripts, correspondence with other Black women, photographs and hand-drawn maps she created while working on her acclaimed 1987 novel “Beloved.” The exhibit also features some of the only existing drafts of “Song of Solomon," as well as various unfinished projects.
Later this month, there'll be a three-day symposium with author Edwidge Danticat giving the keynote address; in April, Grammy-winning vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant will perform.
Princeton's President Christopher Eisgruber stressed that Morrison's legacy will continue to be an inspiration for the university, its community and most importantly, Black artists and artist of color.
“She was a writer of rare genius, brilliant originality and genuinely historic importance,” Eisgruber said.