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2009 News Releases

Longwood alumna receives award for book

January 5, 2009

Book cover of Toni Morrison and the Idea of Africa

A book by a Longwood University alumna about novelist Toni Morrison has received an award from an organization devoted to the study of that author’s life and works.

Dr. La Vinia Delois Jennings, who earned an M.A. at Longwood in 1981 and is professor of English at the University of Tennessee (UT), is the author of Toni Morrison and the Idea of Africa, which in July 2008 received the Toni Morrison Society Book Prize for the best single-authored book. Morrison, recipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, attended the luncheon during the organization’s biennial conference in Charleston, S.C., in which the award was given.

The award, one of two book prizes awarded by the Toni Morrison Society, is based on the originality and clarity of the book’s thesis, the soundness of the research, the quality of the writing, and the book’s impact on Morrison scholarship. One member of the selection committee said Jennings’ book provided the "freshest critical perspective" of all nominations and "new and useful interpretations of textual elements."

The 247-page hardback, published in June 2008 by Cambridge University Press, examines the centrality of traditional symbols in West African cosmology in Morrison’s work. It’s based partly on Jennings’ research trips to West Africa, Haiti and Brazil and in the United States.

Jennings also is the author of Alice Childress, a critical introduction to that playwright-author’s drama, published in 1995, and in 2006 she brought back into print Childress’ only adult novel, A Short Walk, with an afterword by Jennings. Her next book, At Home and Abroad: Historicizing Twentieth-Century Whiteness in Literature and Performance, will be published in the spring of 2009.

Her master’s thesis at Longwood, A Dramatic Adaptation of William Hoffman’s novel A Death of Dreams, was directed by Dr. William Frank, who has since retired and is professor emeritus of English. Jennings, a Halifax County native, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina.

Jennings has taught since 1989 at UT, where she teaches mostly upper-division literature courses. One of her colleagues there is Allen Wier, a novelist and former Longwood faculty member who received Longwood’s 27th Dos Passos Prize for Literature in November 2008.