In partnership with Vanderbilt University’s Commencement Office, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison made an appearance at the Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt University Bookstore in Nashville, TN. The literary legend signed copies of her books at the campus bookstore following her appearance at Senior Day, a traditional celebration held the day before graduation. Selected as the Senior Day guest speaker, Morrison was also awarded the 2013 Nichols-Chancellor’s Medal, one of the university’s highest honors, during the event.
Described by many as one of the most important writers of the 20th century, Morrison was hailed by Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos as “an American literary treasure.” While bestowing the honor upon Morrison, Zeppos noted that the Nichols-Chancellor’s Medal is given to individuals who define the 21st century and exemplify the best qualities of the human spirit. The award was created and endowed by Vanderbilt Law School graduate Ed Nichols and his wife, Janice, in honor of Edward Carmack and Lucile Hamby Nichols.
In his Senior Day address, Zeppos recognized that Morrison’s “heartfelt work illuminates the struggles and triumphs of everyday people, and at the same time, unites us in our common humanity.” Morrison disclosed that she would share some of the honorarium she receives as the Nichols-Chancellor’s Medal recipient with the non-profit Doctors Without Borders.
Given Morrison’s busy schedule, the book signing was scheduled for an hour and a half. Excited fans began lining up at 8 a.m. for the 3 p.m. event, opened to the first 100 lucky fans. “I knew having Toni Morrison in our store would draw a lot of people,” says John Lasiter, Communications Manager for Barnes & Noble Vanderbilt University Bookstore, “but even I was surprised to see a line forming so early in the morning.”
Once Morrison entered the store, fans cheered, with several devotees moved to tears upon meeting the icon. Store Manager Beth Cain described the event as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “We hold so many different events throughout the year – everything from hosting our championship baseball team to cookbook authors to musicians,” says Cain, “but to have such an esteemed author in our store was truly special.”
Born in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio, Toni Morrison is the winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the 1993 Nobel Prize for literature, and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Morrison graduated from Howard University (B.A., 1953) and Cornell University (M.A. 1955). She taught writing and worked as an editor while launching her writing career, eventually joining the faculty of Princeton University from 1989 to 2006, when she accepted emeritus status. Morrison continues to write, most recently publishing her tenth novel, Home, in 2012. She has also written children’s literature, criticism, the libretto for an opera and non-fiction.