University Relations/David McKinney

Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little reads from Toni Morrison's "Sula" at a 24 hour read-a-thon celebrating the author's 80th birthday. The read-a-thon was organized by the Department of English.

English department stages 24 hour reading marathon to note Toni Morrison's 80th birthday

KU faculty and students and members of the Lawrence community recently celebrated the 80th birthday of Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison with a 24-hour read-a-thon of her work.

Giselle Anatol, associate professor of English, arranged readers for the event, which began Feb. 17 and concluded at noon Feb. 18 — Morrison’s birthday. The read-a-thon ended with birthday cake.

Because her book “The Bluest Eye” can be read in its entirety in less than 24 hours, Anatol set aside time for readings of each of Morrison’s other major novels, and volunteers selected favorite passages or read from suggested excerpts.

Community members were among the readers, including Lawrence Public Library employees William Ottens and Kelly Fann.

Faculty from the English department who read included Iris Fischer, associate professor; Doreen Fowler, professor; Mary Klayder, lecturer; Anna Neill, associate professor; and Elizabeth Schultz, professor emeritus. Ray Pence, lecturer in American studies, and DaMaris Hill, a graduate student in American studies, also read. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little began the reading of Morrison's novel, "Sula," after "The Bluest Eye" was completed.

In all, about 50 people, including faculty, staff, students and community members stepped up to the reading table. The readers read both “The Bluest Eye” and “Sula” from cover to cover. Once those novels were completed, readers read excerpts from “Tar Baby,” “Song of Solomon,” “Paradise,” “Jazz,” “Beloved,” “Love” and “A Mercy.”

The Department of English has sponsored similar events recruiting people from the campus and Lawrence community for round-the-clock readings of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” and James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

Anatol recalled those read-a-thons as she was teaching a class on Morrison last year.

“I realized that the writer would be celebrating her 80th birthday this year,” she said. “I wanted to commemorate the event in some way, and in a very public way, since Morrison is so passionate about bringing her work to the people.”

Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor Emeritus in the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University. Her major novels include: “Sula” (1973), “Song of Solomon” (1977), “Beloved” (1987); “Jazz” (1992); “Paradise” (1998), “Love” (2003) and “A Mercy” (2009).

One of the most celebrated contemporary American novelists, Morrison has received national and international acclaim for her powerful work, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for “Beloved” and the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993. Her fiction is described as evoking the legacies of displacement and slavery bequeathed to the African-American community.

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