Some of the greatest literary figures of our generation gathered in New York City on Thursday, to pay tribute to Toni Morrison. Morrison was 88 when she passed away in August, a death that brought forth a flood of tributes from around the world.
But none compared to the emotional speech delivered by Oprah Winfrey on Thursday. “While she’s no longer on this earth, her magnificent soul, her boundless imagination, her fierce passion, her gallantry—She told me once, ‘I’ve always known I was gallant,’” Winfrey said at Manhattan’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. “Who says that? Who even knows they are gallant? Well, her gallantry remains always to help us navigate our way through.”
Also in attendance at the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s Celebration of Life were Angela Davis, Ta-Nehisi Coates, David Remnick, and Fran Lebowitz. Coates praised the “economy and poetry” of Morrison’s language and the wisdom of what he called “grown folks literature,” NBC News’ New York affiliate reports.
Morrison rose to international prominence on the strength of iconic works like Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Solomon, which Winfrey chose to read from during the event . Her chosen passage: “‘You see?’ the farm said to them. ‘See? See what you can do? Never mind you can’t tell one letter from another, never mind you born a slave, never mind you lose your name, never mind your daddy dead, never mind nothing. Here, this here, is what a man can do if he puts his mind to it and his back into it.’”
Watch her entire speech below.