Thinking deeply, dreaming imaginatively, reading critically, reflecting incisively and then writing compellingly is the very essence of what it means to give power to voice. Prairie View A&M University aims to educate its students to become change leaders in an increasingly more diverse, globally interconnected world. Students will be inspired to uncover their hidden talents and to hone their skills as they learn to craft the unique characteristics of various literary genres, comprehend the expectations of the publishing process and benefit from the resources available in a competitive yet supportive writers’ world.
Led by Provost Emerita and Professor E. Joahanne Thomas-Smith and organizationally housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Program features an annual Writer-in-Residence who will offer public readings, master classes, lectures, class visitations and critiques of students’ works. There will come summer writing workshops, informal book discussions with prominent authors, a scholarship program, contests and, eventually, a full curriculum supporting a degree program in creative writing and other linguistic expression. In keeping with the University’s land grant mission, the University will include an outreach component wherein area high schools and elementary schools will become Toni Morrison Writing Program partners. A most prominent partner to the Toni Morrison Writing Program is the Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice, thus fostering exploration of social justice from the perspective of literature, public policy, entertainment, environmental science, athletics, health and other areas.
The Toni Morrison Writing Program was made possible via a substantial gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in early 2021. Scott was Morrison’s student during her time at Princeton and attributes much of her development as an author to Morrison’s mentorship.
Attica Locke is an acclaimed novelist and writer/producer for television and film. Her novel Bluebird, Bluebird won the Edgar Award for best novel, was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was named as a Best of 2017 book by the New York Times, Washington Post, and Financial Times. The sequel, Heaven, My Home, was published on September 17th, 2019. Her previous novel, Pleasantville, was the winner of the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and was also long-listed for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction. Her first novel, Black Water Rising, was nominated for an Edgar Award, an NAACP Image Award, as well as a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was short-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Her second book, The Cutting Season, was a winner of the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.
A former fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmaker’s Lab, Locke has both written and produced for the screen. She was a writer and producer on the Netflix miniseries, When They See Us, directed by Ava Duvernay; Hulu’s limited series, Little Fires Everywhere; and the Fox drama Empire. She most recently developed and was the showrunner for limited series From Scratch on Netflix with Zoe Saldana starring, based off her sister, Tembi Locke’s, bestselling novel. She is developing several other television projects, as well as plotting the next two novels in the Highway 59 series. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.
It was during the Black Arts Movement that Nikki Giovanni came to the forefront as a poet whose unabashedly articulate and commanding yet graceful voice evoked powerful commentary on the history and the hope of people, especially Black people. As was noted in Ebony, “The work of Nikki Giovanni has been as evolutionary as it has been revolutionary. One of the finest poets our time … Giovanni is poetry in motion.” Her book, The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998, is a testament to her having produced a vast body of work which includes not only poetry anthologies but poetry recordings, nonfiction essays and children’s literature. Make Me Rain, published in 2020, is her most recent work.
Nikki Giovanni has received seven NAACP Image Awards. She is also the inaugural recipient of the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award and was awarded the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry. In short, Nikki Giovanni is a national treasure. As a Distinguished Professor of writing at Virginia Tech, she continues to invest in the development of future writers.
September 27, 2021
Launch of the Toni Morrison Writing Program featuring
Inaugural Writer-in-Residence Nikki Giovanni September 29, 2021
Partner School Events
Writing Competition Scholarship Event
3rd Annual Creative Writing Contest
This contest is open to graduating high school seniors only!
Write your original poetry, fiction, or creative non-fiction. Write at least four (4) pages and no more than eight (8) pages. Poetry may be single- spaced. Fiction and creative non-fiction must be double-spaced. Be sure the writing is your own. You may enter in one, two, or three categories. However, if you win in more than one, you will be awarded for the category which carries the highest prize.
What about college scholarships?
One- half of the scholarship amount won will be disbursed in the Fall Semester of 2024 and one-half will be disbursed in the Spring Semester 2025.
Reading what the late Toni Morrison wrote whether it is her first novel, The Bluest Eye, published in her thirties or her phenomenal Beloved which affirmed her artistry and led to her winning the Pulitzer Prize reveals the power of writing as documentation of life in all of its dimensions. Having produced a treasure trove of notable works and explored various literary genres, Toni Morrison became the first Black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. She also was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and numerous other awards. Her discipline, persistence and creativity seem to have been influenced by a constellation of factors among which were her years engaging with civil rights activists, working as an editor, forming lifelong friendships, being a mother to two sons, teaching at Princeton University and influencing generations of future writers.
In Toni Morrison: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations, Nikki Giovanni reflects on a long telephone conversation she had with Ms. Morrison about some profound challenges in her life. She said Toni’s words were, “Write. That’s all you can do. Write.” Ms. Giovanni goes on to say that despite the title of that book, there will never be a last interview with Toni Morrison for “Her books live and talk to us. She could have said Read. But she said Write. And she is Right.”
As Oprah Winfrey once stated about Toni Morrison, “She was our conscience. Our seer. Our truth-teller. She was a magician with language, who understood the power of words. She used them to roil us, to wake us, to educate us and help us grapple with our deepest wounds and try to comprehend them.”
Dr. Emma Joahanne Thomas-Smith, provost emerita and professor of higher education, serves as the program director of the Toni Morrison Writing Program. Prior to serving as Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Prairie View A&M University for nearly two decades, she gained extensive experience in teaching English, coaching debate and training students in forensic competition. She has inspired generations of high school and college students with a love for literature and language. Her administrative roles included service as Head, Department of English and Foreign Languages, Associate Provost, and Director of Title III. It was during her tenure as provost that the decade spanning the mid-nineties to mid-2000s became the decade of the most extensive program development at PVAMU including the advancement to doctoral level program offerings. For more than four decades, Dr. Thomas-Smith has led the University in planning and accreditation which are areas aligned with her specialties acquired at Washington State University where she earned her doctorate. She has held leadership roles in state and national commissions such as the national Voluntary System of Accountability and the Texas Assessment of Skills Program. She is on the executive editorial board of the 155 year-old Negro Educational Review journal and is a sought after speaker and mentor in the K-12 arena and in area community service entities. Dr. Thomas-Smith has received prestigious awards for her active University and community service and support. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Tuskegee University and her masters at New Mexico Highlands University. In 1999, the latter recognized her as a distinguished alumna.
Toni Morrison Writing Program Leadership Committee
Emma Joahanne Thomas-Smith, Chair
Provost Emerita and Professor
Director, Toni Morrison Writing Program
Prairie View A&M University
Dorie Gilbert, Co-Chair
Dean, Marvin D. and June Samuel Brailsford College of Arts and Sciences
Prairie View A&M University
Lecturer II, English and Humanities
Prairie View A&M University