No one can say we didn’t give Toni Morrison her flowers while she was with us; prior to her death on August 5, 2019, the Beloved author had amassed a Nobel Prize in Literature, a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and countless other accolades. And today, Feb. 18, on what would’ve been Morrison’s 89th birthday, Brooklyn, N.Y.’s famed Brooklyn Museum is throwing a party in honor of the literary icon—in fact, they’re hosting a full-on festival: The Toni Morrison Festival: Alive at 89.
The festival, taking place on Tuesday from 6 pm to 8 pm at the Brooklyn Museum, isn’t solely an opportunity to celebrate Morrison’s storied legacy but also to discuss the ongoing lack of diversity in literature, say festival founders Magogodi Makhene and Cleyvis Natera Tucker. In fact, the museum reminds us, “of 116 Nobel Laureates awarded for literature, only 15 went to women. Only one has ever been awarded to a black woman.”
That woman was Toni Morrison, who was awarded the Nobel in 1993 for her collective body of work.
In a release for the event, the Brooklyn Museum elaborates further on the dearth of diversity within the publishing, media, and entertainment industries:
These numbers tell a damning story about representation—whose stories get published, whose work is celebrated and whose words deserve Shakespearean stature. A quick look at the media landscape today does not bode well for an inclusive future—79% of the publishing industry is white, less than 40% of print and digital bylines are women’s; and a paltry 4.8% of TV writers are black.
Against this landscape, the Toni Morrison Festival: Alive at 89 gathers a diverse group of artists, performers and writers—alongside an audience that looks like America today—to celebrate the brilliance of an unparalleled genius.
Touting this inaugural event as “a celebration of the bold, fun, funny, deliciously mischievous and youthful spirit of Toni Morrison,” attendees can expect “celebratory musical performances, eloquent speeches, readings, an ancestral call and response, and more.” Featured guests and entertainment at the Toni Morrison Festival will include:
- Emmy-award filmmaker Sandra Guzman (producer, Pieces That I Am)
- Pulitzer-prize poet Tyehimba Jess
- TED Fellow & Whiting Award recipient Mitchell S. Jackson
- Centre for the Book Award Debut Novelist De’Shawn Charles Winslow
- Acclaimed authors Wayetu Moore and Regina Porter
- Writer/Editor Jennifer N. Baker
- The Resistance Revival Chorus
Most important, the event’s organizers tell us, the Toni Morrison Festival: Alive at 89 “reimagines our literary heritage today by centering Toni Morrison as one of many diverse thinkers.” In fact, the museum posits, there are many readers, writers, and critics who consider Toni Morrison as their Shakespeare—or, perhaps they should. What we know for sure is that 89 years after Toni Morrison came into this world, and only six months after she left it, this literary legend is still very much alive to us.
Tickets are available at the festival website, via Eventbrite. The first 100 tickets are FREE, then $10/ticket. Can’t make it to the Brooklyn Museum tonight? The Toni Morrison Festival: Alive at 89 will also be live-streaming and promoting post-festival events across social media at @ToniMorrison.Festival.