Morrison awarded Emerson-Thoreau Medal for contributions to literature

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Toni Morrison, the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emerita, at Princeton University, has been awarded the 2016 Emerson-Thoreau Medal by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in recognition of her distinguished contributions to the field of literature.

Established in 1958, the Emerson-Thoreau Medal is given to an individual for total literary achievement rather than for a specific work. Previous recipients include Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Katherine Anne Porter, Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer and Philip Roth. Morrison, who was elected a fellow of the academy in 1998, will accept the award at a ceremony on April 6, 2017, at the academy in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"As the recipient of the Emerson-Thoreau Medal, we recognize Toni Morrison for her excellence in the humanities and for her commitment to the ideals of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which, in the words of our charter, include 'to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity and happiness of a free, independent and virtuous people,'" said Jonathan Fanton, president of the academy.

In 1993, Morrison became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Among her many honors are the National Book Critics Circle Award for the novel "Song of Solomon" in 1977 and a Pulitzer Prize for "Beloved" in 1988. Her most recent book is "God Help the Child," published in 2015. She received the National Humanities Medal in 2000 and President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. International honors include the Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1993 and the Ordre National de la Légion d'honneur in 2010. 

Morrison came to Princeton in 1989 and was a member of the University's creative writing program until she retired in 2006. In 1994, she founded the Princeton Atelier, bringing together undergraduate students in interdisciplinary collaborations with acclaimed artists and performers. At Commencement in 2013, Morrison was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from the University.

In 2014, Morrison's papers became part of the permanent library collections of Princeton and they became open this year for research to University students, faculty and scholars worldwide.