January 29, 2012

Kurt Vonnegut ’44, Toni Morrison ’55 Receive Literary Honor

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Correction appended

To recognize their contributions to literature, the New York State Writers Hall of Fame will induct Kurt Vonnegut ’44 and Toni Morrison M.A. ’55 this July, the organization announced on Jan. 11.

At Cornell, Vonnegut studied chemistry while Morrison recieved a master’s degree in English.

“We are fortunate in New York State to have a great many writers worthy of induction,” Rocco Staino, chair of the selection committee for the NYS Writers Hall of Fame, said in an email. “We feel that an annual induction enables us to celebrate the rich literary history of our state.”

Laura Brown, vice provost for undergraduate education, said that the announcement helps affirm Cornell’s place in literary history.

“Cornell has a very long and significant tradition of major creative work, and Cornell writers — then and now — are nationally and internationally visible … This recognition contributes to that ongoing visibility,” Brown said.

A third Cornell alumnus, E.B. White ’21, the author of Charlotte’s Web, was inducted in 2010. While at Cornell, White was the Editor-in-Chief of The Sun and Vonnegut was The Sun’s Associate Editor.

Prof. Molly Hite, English, said she doubted that the accolades would have an effect on the legacy of the authors.

“Those particular choices aren’t going to change a thing, because we all know that [Morrison and Vonnegut] are great,” Hite said. “Both Toni Morrison and Kurt Vonnegut have made lasting contributions to 20th century literature and to the whole of American literature.”

Hite said that the awards are partially a product of Cornell’s writing program.

“Unlike virtually any other writing program, people are taught across categories of creative writing. Writers would sometimes teach classes, allowing them to read other people’s work, which is essential to be able to produce good writing,” she said. “Diversity is another one of the keynotes of Cornell’s writing program; these have been some of the founding principles of Cornell’s writing program.”

Hite said that there should be more honors to recognize new authors.

“Such honors could provide an incentive to read and also provide a starting point for small, growing writers,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the New York State Writers Hall of Fame inducted Kurt Vonnegut ’44 and Toni Morrison M.A. ’55 on Jan. 11. In fact, the organization announced on Jan. 11 that the Cornell alumni will be inducted in July.

Original Author: Utsav Rai