Toni Morrison: Sites of Memory

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Firestone Library Milberg Gallery, February 22 - June 4, 2023

Items from the Papers of Toni Morrison, Special Collections, Princeton University Library (PUL)

In 2016, Princeton University announced the opening of the Toni Morrison Papers. Comprised of manuscript drafts, editorial notes, correspondence, speeches, photographs, and research material, the collection registers the importance of the archive within Morrison’s decades-long career. In her writing practice, she gathered archival objects like popular photographs, advertisements, newspaper clippings, and historical documents as source material for her novels, essays, and speeches. These were the sites from which she began to “reconstruct the worlds” that her characters dwelled in, worlds that the dominant historical record had neglected or obscured. In this archive we can glimpse her own writing practice, professional interests, and changing creative investments. In its breadth, the collection invites us to consider how history, memory, and the literary imagination relate to one another anew.

Taking inspiration from her 1986 essay “The Site of Memory,” this exhibition brings together select objects from the Toni Morrison Papers — from early outlines of her first published novel The Bluest Eye (1970) to the only extant drafts of Song of Solomon (1977) to hand-drawn maps of Ruby, the fictional center of Paradise (1998). The exhibition’s materials illuminate how her creative process was a deeply archival one, and spotlights this archive as a site that records unknown aspects of her writing life and practice. Rather than offering a career retrospective, the exhibition’s organization challenges notions of chronology and plays with time in much the same way that Morrison’s own writing does. The objects are arranged according to six interrelated “sites” that, together, elaborate the crucial place of the archive within Morrison’s own dynamic career, and also in Black life itself.

Learn about visiting the exhibition in person on the How to Visit page.

Learn more about the digital restrictions of this collection

Unless otherwise noted, all items on exhibit are from The Toni Morrison Papers, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library and are the original work of Toni Morrison.

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