NEW YORK (AP) — Toni Morrison received a lifetime achievement award Thursday night from the PEN American Center, a ceremony of music and words that ended with a special treat from the guest of honor: An excerpt from a novel in progress.
Hundreds gathered Thursday night at the New School auditorium in Manhattan as the Nobel winner received a prize named for a previous laureate, the $25,000 PEN/Saul Bellow Award. Billed as "Dangerous Work: An Evening With Toni Morrison," the 90-minute event was a tribute to her ideas and to the music of her language, fitting for a writer who has collaborated on an opera and called one of her novels "Jazz." Performances included music from mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran and her husband, composer-pianist Jason Moran, along with readings by actors Adepero Oduye and Delroy Lindo. All praised Morrison and her work, bowing from the stage to the author in her front row seat.
Oduye recalled when she, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, read "The Bluest Eye" as a girl and thought of the book as the first to give "voice to thoughts and feelings" that were really hers.
"I was, in a way, freed," said Oduye, whose film credits include "The Big Short" and "Twelve Years a Slave."
The 85-year-old Morrison, eyes looking out from under a wide-brimmed hat, spoke of how "meaningful" each of her books were, like children to whom she had given birth. Noting that she might not get "another half or full decade," she announced, to excited murmurs from the audience, that a new work was underway and shared some lines from the opening section, narrated by a mute.
"Ma said I was born without a voice box. Box. Couldn't you buy one?" Morrison read. "Anyway, being speechless doesn't mean I can't hear. I hear everything — everything."