Jill Krementz Photo Journal: Toni Morrison’s Memorial

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Toni Morrison photographed by Jill Krementz on February 13, 1974 in her office at Random House where she worked as an editor. Her authors included Angela Davis, Gayle Jones and Toni Cade Bambara.
On the wall, photographs of her two young sons, Slade and Ford. Slade Morrison died in 2010 when he was 45 from pancreatic cancer.
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” — Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s life and legacy were celebrated on November 21, 2019 at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

The gothic cathedral on Amsterdam Avenue was filled with more than 3,000 admirers paying homage to the giant of American Literature who died on August 5th at the age of 88.

Ten speakers from the worlds of literature, journalism, and the arts eulogized Ms. Morrison. The Right Reverend Clifton Daniel III officiated.  Four musicians performed — David Murray (saxophonist), Toshi Reagon (singer), Brandy Younger (harpist), and Andy Bey (the 80-year-old pianist).

Following the Celebration there was a small private reception.

The Toni Morrison Memorial was organized by Penguin Random House, Toni’s longtime publisher.


The speakers at Toni’s Memorial (l. to r.): Erroll McDonald, Oprah Winfrey, David Remnick, Angela Davis, Fran Lebowitz, Michael Ondaatje, Jesmyn Ward, Kevin Young, Edwidge Danticat, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Ford Morrison, Toni’s son, and Lisa Schubert, who is in charge of Cathedral Programming & External Affairs.
Knopf’s Sonny Mehta, his wife Gita, and Jonathan Segal.
Left: Ruth Simmons is the current President of Prairie View A&M University.
Right: Amanda Urban (Toni’s long time literary agent) and Ann Close.
Left: leeMarieme Priestly, who was Ms. Morrison’s hair stylist.
Right: Artist Francesco Clemente.
Left: Elizabeth Bernard, Knopf publicist (her second day on the job).
Right: Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Ford Morrison with his wife Cece.
Toni Morrison with her eldest son Ford and his then girlfriend Cece to whom he is now married.
Jane Friedman greets Ford Morrison. Safa Morrison, Ford’s younger of two daughters, is seated beside Cece.
Mary Cannon Screen and Michelle Ghusan (Al Murray’s daughter).
Left: Writer Hilton Als. 
Right: Photographer and documentary filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.
Left: Random House’s Erroll McDonald welcomed everyone to St. John the Divine and acted as master of ceremonies.
Right: Erroll McDonald and Toni Morrison photographed by Jill Krementz on April 17th, 1978.
Toni showing Erroll, her colleague at Random House, the manuscript pages from Song of Solomon written on a roll of paper.
Very few people knew that Toni was writing a novel on the side in addition to editing her own authors.
“After I write a draft in long hand I frequently do a second draft on long rolls of paper. I correct that heavily and go on to regular typing paper for a third draft.”
Jesmyn Ward and Kevin Young were among the speakers.
Concluding the tributes was Oprah Winfrey.
“Toni Morrison took the canon and she broke it open. For me, there is no greater writer,” extolled Oprah before reading an excerpt from Song of Solomon.
“‘You see?’ the farm said to them. ‘See? See what you can do. Never mind you can’t tell one letter from another, never mind you born a slave, never mind you lose your name, never mind your daddy dead, never mind nothing. Here, this here, is what a man can do if he puts his mind to it and his back into it.’”


Left: Angela Davis at a small reception following the tributes. Angela met Toni when she was in her 20’s when they were housemates.
“So many of us feel that we found ourselves through, and because of, a relation to Toni and her work. The greatest challenge is to envision the world without the glorious laughter of our dear, dear Toni.
Right: March 28, 1976: Angela Davis and Toni Morrison photographed by Jill Krementz on March 23, 1976 in New York City.
Writers Hisham Matar and Juan Gabriel Vásquez talking with Michael Ondaatje, who had flown in from Canada where he lives.
S. Epatha Merkerson: “ I am one of a small group of people who did a musical that Toni wrote the book for back in the 80’s—a workshop that was presented at 890 Broadway during the Michael Bennett days. It was called Storyville and took place in New Orleans.
Fran Lebowitz and S. Epatha Merkerson.
Fran was one of Toni’s closest friends, accompanying her to Sweden when she received the Nobel. “For forty years Toni was two of my four closest friends,” quipped the humorist.
David Remnick and Erroll McDonald.
David recalled an early phone conversation with Morrison pleading for a contribution for The New Yorker. “I can’t write a piece honey. I’m baking a cake.”
Left: Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“Black is beautiful but it ain’t always pretty,” said Coates in his remarks having first become aware of Toni’s work when he came across “The Black Book,” in his father ’s bookstore.
Right: Sonia Sanchez, a poet of the Black Arts Movement and author of over a dozen books of poetry, as well as short stories, critical essays, plays, and children’s books.
Edwidge Danticat remembered her friend and mentor saying, “You gave us both battlecries and lullabies.”
Toni gave Edwidge one of her ornate hairpins the last time they visited with one another.
Edwidge Danticat and Toni Morrison at a Barnes and Noble event honoring the late writer, Toni Cade Bambara. December 12, 1991.
Among the musicians who performed at Toni’s memorial: Singer Toshi Reagon and pianist Andy Bey.
Toshi will be performing at the Rubin Museum on December 20th and at Joe’s Pub from Jan 22-26.
Left: Erroll McDonald and Fran Lebowitz.
Right: S. Epatha Merkerson.
Left: Anthony Calypso who worked with Jonathan Demme on “Beloved” talking with Edwidge Danticat.
“Beloved “is a 1998 American horror drama film directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and Thandie Newton. Based on Toni Morrison ‘s 1987 Pulitzer novel, the plot centers on a former slave after the American Civil War , her haunting by a poltergeist, and the visitation of her reincarnated daughter.
Right: Karl Danticat and Angela Davis.
David Remnick and his wife Esther Fein at the evening’s end.
Toni Morrison photographed by Jill Krementz on October 27, 2016 at The New School.
Honored with the PEN/Saul Bellow prize, it was one of Toni’s last public appearances and included a reading of her forthcoming — and still unpublished — final novel.
“I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.” — Toni Morrison

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