Thursday, July 28, 2016

A few lessons from the Toni Morrison Society Conference

Toni Morrison Society page

July 21 - 24, I attended the Toni Morrison Society (TMS) Biennial Conference in New York City. In addition to gaining insight from the keynote address by Dana Williams and other speakers,  I took several notes on the production of a strong, effective author society.

A few lessons:

1. Drawing support from publishers. The TMS, in partnership with Knopf Publisher, arranged for all conference attendees to receive a special copy of The Black Book (1974) compiled by Middleton Harris and others and edited Toni Morrison. Over the years, the TMS has established a solid relationship with publishers and made it possible for members and students across the country to receive free or deeply discounted books. Author society members, and more importantly, a wide range of readers would benefit  if more of the organizations followed the model of TMS and established partnerships with publishers.

2. Enacting active collaboration. The TMS, at least at the conference, was largely fueled by a vibrant, resourceful group of black and white women. Most scholarly groups  are homogeneous (i.e. mostly white women, mostly black women, mostly white people, etc.). There's something to be said for and respected about the interracial and collaborative efforts of the TMS. I wonder if the nature of that network of diverse collaborators explains the reach of the group.

3. Moving beyond scholarly projects. The TMS group has figured out how to coordinate projects beyond the presentation of scholarly publishing and conference papers. Over the years, they've organized reading projects for secondary school children and public programs for different communities. The format of their conference also does not overwhelm attendees with panels.  

4. Establishing institutional support. Oberlin College is now the institutional home for Toni Morrison. Before that, i was Bucknell University. The TMS has also, in the past, earned support for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Those kinds of partnerships can really empower a group and ensure far-reaching support for focal authors. Can you imagine, for instance, how studies and valuations of [insert writers] would benefit if they had a long-term, supportive institutional home?

Toni Morrison

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