Toni Morrison Receives Medal of Freedom

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Saying that she brings the world a “moral and emotional intensity that few writers ever attempt,” President Obama yesterday presented Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison with a Medal of Freedom in a ceremony at the White House.

Morrison and twelve other people, including musician Bob Dylan, Girl Scouts Founder Juliette Gordon Low and Shimon Peres, former president of Israel, received the award from President Obama in the East Room of the White House. The medal is the highest civilian honor in the country.

“What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people—not in short, blinding bursts, but steadily over the course of a lifetime,” the president said at the ceremony. “Some of them are household names; others have labored quietly out of the public eye. Most of them may never fully appreciate the difference they’ve made or the influence that they’ve had, but that’s where our job comes in.”

“As a single mother working in a publishing company by day, she would carve out a little time in the evening to write, often with her two sons pulling on her hair and tugging at her earrings,” Obama said of Morrison. “Once a baby spit up on her tablet, so she wrote around it. Circumstances may not have been ideal, but the words that came out were magical.”

Obama shared how Morrison’s writings influenced his life and those of other people. “Toni Morrison’s prose brings us that kind of moral and emotional intensity that few writers ever attempt,” he said. “From Song of Solomon to Beloved, Toni reaches us deeply using a tone that is lyrical, precise, distinct and inclusive. She believes that language ‘arcs toward the place where meaning might lie.’ The rest of us are happy to be following along for the ride.”

Morrison is the recipient of both the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize.

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