Humanities Department Celebrates the Life of Toni Morrison

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

By: Meghan Moynihan


The winding line was wrapped around the block outside of The Church of St. John The Divine. There were folks from all walks of life, an unlikely crowd of people with one connection amongst the diverse group with books nested into many of their hands.

Purchase students Steve Awlasewicz (left) and Winnie Richards waiting in line for the memorial service, reading to occupy time. (Photo by: Meghan Moynihan)

On Thursday, Nov. 21, a memorial service was held in New York City to honor the incredible life of Toni Morrison. A group of students from the Purchases humanities department, led by Associate Professor Gaura Narayan, attended the event.


Toni Morrison touched many hearts within the Purchase community. She was on campus as a visiting lecturer in literature from 1971 to 1972. Then, in 1983, Morrison was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Purchase. Today, her legacy is still a massive part of the Purchase Humanities Department, and students study her work considerately.


After the passing of Morrison on August 5, Interim President Dennis Craig released a statement.


"While her time with us was brief, she inspired and continues to inspire generations of faculty and students who engage with her work," said Craig.


The memorial service on Thursday included a lineup of intellectually fascinating speakers, including Oprah Winfrey, New Yorker editor David Remnick and the author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, among many others.


American folk and gospel musician Toshi Reagon, playing tribute to Toni Morrison. (Photo by: Meghan Moynihan)

The day was, before anything else, a celebration of Morrison's radiant life. The cathedral was not sad or grim; it filled with jokes and laughter, music, and poetry. The service was almost a chance to meet Toni Morrison. Attendees encountered her humor through the anecdotal stories delivered by her close friends, and her music taste through the roaring saxophone. Through her poetry, it was clear who Morrison was, and what she stood for.


The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, where the service was held. (Photo by: Meghan Moynihan)



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