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Lorain Library remembers 'most famous native daughter'

  • Toni-Morrison-event
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LORAIN — Karen Wootten fondly remembers trips to the library in the back of her grandmother's Ford Thunderbird.

Growing up, she and her 11 siblings would go weekly to Lorain Public Library, first at the Carnegie Center and later at its West Sixth Street location in their grandmother Freda Walker's car. On Wednesday, she and some of her sisters shared why growing up under "Miss Frieda's" watchful eye was historic in its own right.

Walker's best friend was Ramah Wofford. Wofford, with four children of her own, had one daughter who would later be known as Lorain's "most famous native daughter," Toni Morrison. Walker was a smart woman, Wootten said Wednesday evening, as she pulled out books Morrison had sent with inscriptions to her grandmother.

"We used to walk over to the house all the time because we lived apart the tracks from her and once in a while she would show us books that Chloe wrote and autographed and sent to my grandmother," she said. "And my grandmother was so proud of her."

Wootten smiled as she held out the books her grandfather gave to her after Walker's death, to save from dry rot. She said her grandmother is smiling in heaven at the attention her little collection garnered Wednesday evening, as part of the Lorain Public Library's remembrance event for Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning author.

"She loved the library, and I said well, we'll go to the library and hopefully I'll see some people that I know and I'll show them that Chloe sent my grandmother these books," she said.

Wootten's collection ends with 1978's "Song of Solomon," as her grandmother died in 1982. Of the three books she brought with her, each is hand-inscribed by the famous author to "Aunt Freda" or "Miss Freda," and often signed "Chloe," not "Toni," the nickname Morrison took up while at Howard University.

"Dear Miss (Freda), I have always remembered you with the fondest affection. Love, Chloe," the inscription reads in "The Bluest Eye," published in 1970.

After the program, Wootten laughed with her younger sister, remembering that their uncle had dated Morrison while the pair was in high school — as Morrison was part of the Lorain High School class of 1949-A — but broke up with her to date the woman he would later marry.

Morrison, 88, died Aug. 5 in a New York hospital, and more than a dozen people came out Wednesday to hear the story of her life, while sharing stories of their own.

Retired library public service coordinator Valerie Smith gave a presentation covering Morrison's time in Lorain growing up as Chloe Wofford through her rise to literary fame until her death earlier this month.

Born Feb. 18, 1931, and growing up in rental units throughout the city, Morrison would always remember Lorain fondly in interviews throughout her life, including her time working at the library when it was in the Carnegie Center, Smith said.

She returned to the city and county several times, even as her fame grew, for ribbon cuttings, book signings and conferences.

She received a bachelor of arts from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1953 and a master's of arts from Cornell University in 1955. She would go on to hold several faculty positions — some concurrently — while raising two boys and waking up at 5 a.m. to write her now-famous novels.

In addition to her more than a dozen fiction novels, she wrote several non-fiction works, holding spots on the New York Times bestseller list for fiction and nonfiction at the same time in 1992. She also wrote two plays, 1986's "Dreaming Emmett" and 2011's "Desdemona."

"The woman did not know how to slow down," Smith said.

The library is hoping to host a showing of the 2000 Lorain County Community College-owned documentary "Toni Morrison: The Meanings of Home," sometime in the near future.

Contact Carissa Woytach at 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.
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