Press Releases

    25 June 2002

    Secretary-General Welcomes Toni Morrison As Inaugural Speaker in Lecture Series

    NEW YORK, 24 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks of Secretary-General Kofi Annan introducing Toni Morrison as the first lecturer in the Secretary-General's Lecture Series, 24 June:

    I am delighted, but not surprised, to see so many of you here this afternoon. And I am well aware that you have come to listen to Professor Toni Morrison, not to me.

    I'm enormously grateful to Professor Morrison for agreeing to give the first in this new series of lectures. It's a great honour for me and for all of us.

    But before I introduce her -- not that she needs any introduction -- let me just say a few words about the series.

    My idea in starting it was to strengthen the sense of community among all of us who work here at the United Nations -- members of national delegations, the staff of the Secretariat and the various Funds and Programmes, and, of course, the accredited non-governmental organizations.

    For each of us, there are people here whom we meet every day in the normal course of our work, while there are many others whom we know only slightly, or not at all, because of our different assignments or specialities. And even those we do know, we may know only in a professional context.

    Yet there are obviously issues -- in areas like the natural sciences, or the humanities -- that we are all interested in, quite outside our normal work.

    So I thought it would be good if, from time to time, we could come together to hear someone talk about one of those issues -- someone we can all learn from; someone who will stimulate all of us to think and to discuss.

    The speakers will be eminent individuals from a wide range of disciplines and regions. But I doubt if any will be more eminent than Toni Morrison.

    As you know, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    A British general once said, on reading a beautiful poem the night before a decisive battle, that he "would rather have written this than beat the French tomorrow".

    In slightly the same spirit I could say that, if there is one Nobel Prize that all other prize winners should envy, it is that Prize for Literature.

    Literature has the power to transform us in ways that politics never can.

    And few writers have demonstrated that power more magically than Toni Morrison, in her wonderful novels.

    She is, perhaps, the greatest living African American writer, but really she belongs not just to America, or to Africa, but to the world.

    I can't think of anyone more fitting to begin this series of lectures at the United Nations.

    I am deeply honoured and grateful to her for coming.

    And I feel quite sure she is going to surprise us all.

    Toni, the floor is yours.

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