Nyack retrospective: Toni Morrison, in her own words


Illustration by Bill Batson

NYACK — Toni Morrison drew inspiration from the Hudson River, perhaps most notably for the main characters in her haunting novel, “Beloved.”

And so it’s fitting that a retrospective of her celebrated literary career should take place along the river, at the historic DePew House.

The Historical Society of the Nyacks’ “Toni Morrison: A Retrospective,” traces the life and career of the award-winning author, who died in 2019 at age 88.

Morrison, who taught writing at SUNY Albany and Princeton University before forging a groundbreaking career as an editor for Random House, went on to produce such acclaimed works of fiction as “The Bluest Eye,” “Song of Solomon,” “Sula” and “Jazz.”

Originally from the Midwest, Morrison owned a converted boathouse in Grand View-on-Hudson from the late 1970s until her death.

In 1993, Morrison became the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature for “novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import,” that “gives life to an essential aspect of American reality." Her other honors include the Pulitzer Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The display, curated by Nyack author and Historical Society Trustee Brenda Ross, uses Morrison’s own words to illustrate her creative process, her activism and her views on Black women and feminism.

“Her work is so high brow, I never really considered her an activist until I started reading her words, her life story and to see who her influences were,” Ross told Clare Sheridan during a “Crossroads of Rockland History” interview.

Ross added: “I found that she was way more cutting edge than I expected. … There are few people who could pull off what she’s done and have bonafides in academia and the literary world internationally.

She has the ability to cut through a lot of chaos and get right to the point.”

Ross recounted an exchange between Morrison and an interviewer who said, “Your books are difficult,” to which she replied: “It’s called reading.”

Ross, whose novel, “Bibsy,” is set in an African American enclave in Haverstraw in the mid-1950s, said the retrospective should provide inspiration for fledgling writers and creative writing teachers.

“I just hope that the exhibition helps other writers who are pondering that path,” she said. “Just stay with it.”

If you go to the exhibit

  • What: Toni Morrison: A Retrospective
  • Where: Main floor of the DePew House, 50 Piermont Ave., Nyack, behind the Nyack Library.
  • When: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays through July 31. Please wear a mask. Donations are welcome.
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