About the Toni Morrison Writing Program

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.

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Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni
Inaugural Writer-in-Residence

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.

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Schedule of Activities

Additional information regarding the events, dates, times and registration process will be provided at a future date on the University’s website. Dates, times and activities are subject to change.

September 2021

September 27, 2021
Launch of the Toni Morrison Writing Program featuring
Inaugural Writer-in-Residence Nikki Giovanni
September 29, 2021
Master Class

February 2022

Public Reading/Lecture
Master Class

November 2021

Partner School Events
Master Class

April 2022

Public Forum
Writing Competition Scholarship Event

Toni Morrison

About Toni Morrison

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.”

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Emma Joahanne Thomas-Smith

Emma Joahanne Thomas-Smith
Program Director

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
  • Teta Banks
    Associate Professor, English and Humanities
    Prairie View A&M University
  • Emanuelee Bean ‘08
    Poet, Spoken Word Artist, Motivational Speaker
    2021-2023 Houston Poet Laureate
    Houston, Texas
  • Dorie Gilbert, Co-Chair
    Dean, Marvin D. and June Samuel Brailsford College of Arts and Sciences
    Prairie View A&M University
  • Joanna Sanders Mann
    Professor, English and Humanities
    Prairie View A&M University
  • Shante Moore ‘13
    Executive Director of Student Engagement
    Prairie View A&M University
  • James M. Palmer
    Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
    Prairie View A&M University
  • Melanye T. Price ‘95
    Endowed Professor, Political Science
    Director, Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice
    Prairie View A&M University
  • Andrea Sankey
    Senior Executive Director of Public Affairs
    Office of the President
    Prairie View A&M University
  • Glenn Shaheen
    Assistant Professor, Creative Writing
    Prairie View A&M University
  • ReShonda Tate
    Award Winning Writer, Literary Consultant, Publisher, and
    Managing Editor of the Defender
    Houston, Texas

Contact Us

Dr. Emma Joahanne Thomas-Smith
Provost Emerita and Professor
Director, Toni Morrison Writing Program
Prairie View A&M University
P.O. Box 519; Mail Stop 1040
Prairie View, Texas 77446

Email: [email protected]

Phone: (936) 261-2217