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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Kevin Powell

Kevin Powell
Writer-in-Residence

Kevin Powell is one of the most celebrated political, cultural, literary, and hip-hop voices in America. A native of Jersey City, Powell was raised by a single mother in a community stricken with extreme poverty and violence. His life transformed after studying at Rutgers University in New Brunswick thanks to the New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund, a program created during the Civil Rights Movement to benefit poor youth. Today, he has lectured, worked, and traveled in all 50 American states and five of the world’s seven continents.

Powell has become a highly regarded poet, journalist, and author of 15 books, including “When We Free The World,” his new short essay collection about freedom, justice, and equality in America. His other titles include: “In The Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers;” “recognize; Keepin’ It Real: Post-MTV Reflections On Race, Sex, and Politics;” “Step into a World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature;” “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight: Manhood, Race, and Power in America;” “No Sleep Till Brooklyn: New and Selected Poems;”; “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King;” and his critically acclaimed autobiography, “The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood,” which is being adapted for the screen. His newest poetry collection, “Grocery Shopping with My Mother,” will soon be published by Soft Skull/Penguin Random House.

Read more Recommended Reading List Writer-in-Residence Archives

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.

Schedule of Activites

September 2022

September 28, 2022

  • Public Forum: ‘Break My Soul:’ Why Black Stories, Black Voices, and Black Writing Matter
View Program
  • Writing Clinic: “Write to Win” at a Morrison Program Partner High School

September 29, 2022

February 2023

February 15, 2023

  • Public Forum: Special Black History Month Presentation
  • Teach In: Writer and Student Engagement

February 16, 2023

  • Master Class

November 2022

November 2, 2022

  • Hump Appearance: “Hip Hop: The Medium and Its Messages”

November 3, 2022

  • Writing Academy for Student Leaders: “Powering Up: When Leaders Read and Write Compellingly”
  • Master Class

April 2023

April 12, 2023

  • Public Forum: Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice Annual Social Justice Event

April 13, 2023

  • Teach In: Writer and Student Engagement
  • Master Class
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
  • Dorie Gilbert, Co-Chair
    Dean, Marvin D. and June Samuel Brailsford College of Arts and Sciences
    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
  • 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
  • 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 and Chief Development Officer
    Office of Development
    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
  • James M. Palmer, Ex-officio
    Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
    Prairie View A&M University

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