Virginia Tech will hold a tribute celebration for author Toni Morrison tonight at 7 p.m. in Burruss Auditorium.
The event, “Sheer Good Fortune: Celebrating Toni Morrison” is presented by the Center for the Arts and hosted by Nikki Giovanni, university distinguished professor of English at Tech, and author and poet Maya Angelou.
Tickets for the event sold out in 28 hours, which led to the opening of an overflow viewing area in the GLC Auditorium where a live video stream will be broadcast. Tickets for the viewing area are still available.
“Having this entrance into the world of poets is very important to me,” Morrison said at a press conference Monday.
‘A living tribute’
According to Giovanni, the idea for the event began in 2010 when Toni’s son passed away.
“I called Maya and said ‘We should have an event for Toni,’” Giovanni said. “I laugh about it now, but being poets, poetry reading is something we do, no matter what is wrong with the world.”
Giovanni and Angelou wanted the opportunity to celebrate Morrison’s life and work while she was still alive. While the event was originally supposed to be held at Wake Forest University, where Angelou is an English professor, last year they decided to move the event to Tech.
Giovanni was excited to host the event, but did not anticipate the amount of planning and coordination involved. She was happy to share the responsibility with Tech’s Office of the President and the Center for the Arts.
“(These organizations) are used to doing a lot of things,” Giovanni said. “It’s a lot of little things like getting the tickets — this is a big event. It would have been impossible without them.”
Joanne Gabbin, English professor at James Madison University, has partnered with Giovanni and Angelou to host the event.
“(The event) is about love,” Gabbin said. “We have to, as a community, honor literary greats. We want a living tribute to a woman who needs celebrating. Toni often talks about community and it is time for the community to embrace her.”
‘Leaving a legacy’
Morrison, who was born Chloe Wofford, established her writer’s name early on, which she regrets somewhat. She described putting the wrong name on one of her initial manuscripts, and although she wanted to change it back to her birth name, it was too late.
“I do have regrets that I didn’t use my birth name,” Morrison said. “The separation has worked out nicely, though. There is a difference between the person, Chloe, and the persona, Toni.”
Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 and has written a total of 10 novels, including “The Bluest Eye,” “Sula” and “Song of Solomon,” among others.Her most recent novel “Home” was published this year. She described the novel as an attempt to paint the picture of the U.S. environment in the 1950s which led to the instrumental civil rights movement.
“The '50s were my time,” Morrison said. “It was when I was smart, young — I thought I knew everything. I wanted to have a character live at that time and pass through the U.S. as though it were a battlefield, which it was in a way.”