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U.S. Postal Service issues a Toni Morrison stamp

Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison (1931–2019), a frequent collaborator in the early days of the New York State Writers Institute and the second speaker in our history in 1984, was celebrated today, Tuesday, March 7, as the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor.

Since the United States Post Office issued its Benjamin Franklin stamp in 1847, more than 800 people have been featured on over 4,000 stamps.

Morrison joins literary legends who have been honored with a U.S. stamp, including authors James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Washington Irving, and Samuel L. Clemens. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Joyce Chen, Julia Child, Ralph Ellison, O. Henry, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and poets Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, E.E. Cummings, Robert Hayden, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams.

More about Toni Morrison's connection with the NYS Writers Institute

The first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Toni Morrison wrote 11 novels as well as children’s books and essay collections. Among them were celebrated works like Song of Solomon, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, and Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.

Morrison was a frequent collaborator in the early days of the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany. Following the Institute's inaugural event with Saul Bellow in 1984, Morrison became the second speaker in our history when a packed audience greeted her in the Campus Center Ballroom on September 13, 1984.

In January 1985, she joined the University as the Albert Schweitzer Chair in Humanities, marking the first time the NYS Board of Regents has awarded the University the prestigious position. In that capacity, she brought Ralph Ellison, acclaimed author of The Invisible Man who was honored with a U.S. stamp in 2014), to the University, along with performers Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis and other luminaries of the African-American experience.

“Toni Morrison was the rarest of rare birds,” said William Kennedy, Writers Institute founder and executive director. At that time, the Schweitzer Chair offices and the Writers Institute shared office space at the University from 1984 until 1989, when she left Albany to take a position at Princeton. The Writers Institute offices feature Toni Morrison’s chair and desk she used while writing her Pulitzer-winning novel Beloved.

Kennedy and the Writers Institute raised money and offered support for Morrison that allowed her to finish writing her first play, “Dreaming Emmett,” which premiered at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany in January 1986, marking the first official observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In a New York Times story published December 29, 1985, Morrison talked about her first venture as a dramatist. "I keep asking Bill Kennedy to find one American who wrote novels first and then successful plays. Just one. And neither he nor I could come up with any one American... But I feel I have a strong point. I write good dialogue. It's theatrical. It moves. It just doesn't hang there."

Morrison also produced "The Birth of Black Cinema" three-day symposium in 1988 featuring Spike Lee, Toni Cade Bambara, St. Clair Bourne, Haile Gerima, James Snead and Hortense Spillers. In 1989, Morrison moved to Princeton University and became the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities. In 1993, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the first African American woman to receive the distinction.

Art director Ethel Kessler designed this stamp with a photograph by Deborah Feingold. The Toni Morrison stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp in panes of 20.


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