English Department Celebrates “Community” for Fifth Annual Toni Morrison Day

The Department of English at Monmouth University celebrated their fifth annual Toni Morrison Day with the theme of “community” on Friday, Feb. 23 in Pozycki Hall Auditorium. Students, faculty, and staff participated in different programs throughout the day, including faculty and student-led panels, a community discussion on Morrison’s Nobel Lecture, art and poetry contests, and a presentation from keynote speaker Ross Gay.

Toni Morrison was a novelist and essayist well known for her series of works that touched on racial injustices and the power of language. Morrison gained national attention for her novel, “Song of Solomon” (1977) and won the National Books Critics Circle Award. She also won the Pulitzer Prize for another novel, Beloved (1987). In 1988, Morrison was announced as the first African American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her first novel, “The Bluest Eye” (1970).

“By co-sponsoring the event, we hope to amplify the impact of Morrison’s work on our community and empower attendees to engage with her themes of identity, race, and social justice.” Zaneta Rago-Craft, Ed.D., Director of the Intercultural Center, said.

The Intercultural Center, as well as the Wayne D. McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Social Work, Leon Hess Business School, Department of History and Anthropology, Guggenheim Memorial Library, “Monmouth Review,” and Project Write Now took part in co-sponsoring Toni Morrison Day.

Rago-Craft added, “By offering a diverse range of programming, we are now certain the program, now proudly in its fifth year, will engage attendees from various backgrounds and create a memorable experience that honors Morrison’s life and work.”

Toni Morrison Day opened with a panel on the Harlem Renaissance moderated by Joseph Torchia, M.A., with panelists Corey Dzenko, Ph.D., Ahba Sood, Ph.D., and Hettie Williams, Ph.D. Following was a discussion on Morrison’s Nobel Lecture that incited thoughts and ideas from students, faculty, and staff. It was moderated by Brittany Biesiada, Ph.D., Torchia, and Sood. Student panelists Kaitlin McGuire, Gabriella Petrillo, and Lincoln Pereira each gave presentations on Morrison’s novel, Beloved, moderated by Lynn Siracusa, Ed.D.

The winners for the Toni Morrison Day digital poster contest and creative writing contests were announced by the “Monmouth Review” and moderated by Jennifer Harpootlian, M.A., Mihaela Moscaluc, Ph.D., and Kurt Wagner, Ph.D. The winners for the digital art contest were freshman Daniel Martin, senior Kiley Hubbard, and junior Jessica Taylor. Each won a $75 gift card, a certificate, and will have their posters displaced in the Guggenheim Memorial Library. The winners for the creative writing contest were Nicole Conti, senior, Taylor Williams, sophomore, and Kobi Sana, freshman, who each won $75 and presented their work to the attendees.

“We [“Monmouth Review”] wanted to give the winners of the contest the space to share and present their work, as well as encourage all students to submit their work for the contest. With this year’s theme being community, we wanted to bring the campus together and celebrate students’ writing,” emphasized Breanna Guinta, a senior English student and Vice President of the “Monmouth Review.”

Students from Asbury Park High School taking a creative writing course spent the day at the Toni Morrison Day program. One of the students, Robert Pennington, read aloud one of his poems titled “Life”.
The program ended with a presentation from keynote speaker Ross Gay. Gay is a poet, essayist, and professor at Indiana University Bloomington who was awarded the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award, the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and the PEN American Literary Jean Stein Award. Some of his works include poetry collections “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” (2015), “Be Holding” (2022), and essays, “The Book of Delights” (2019), “Inciting Joy” (2022), and “The Book of (More) Delights” (2023).
Gay read excerpts from his books and engaged in discussion with Moscaliuc on the significance of his work. The floor was opened to the Monmouth community who were able to ask questions and conversate with Gay. The presentation concluded with a book signing.

“Toni Morrison Day really highlighted the transformative power of language and how it can be a tool to find joy,” junior English student Tim Pakrad, said. “The program underscores Morrison’s legacy with a fanfare of gratitude, praise, and attention.”

Mihaela Moscaliuc, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of English and member of the Toni Morrison Day Committee, said, “It [Toni Morrison Day] brought us together as a community so we may learn and tend to one another. I would like to think that Toni Morrison would have been pleased with it.”