Senior Staff Writer Lucia Towne attended the 12th Annual Morningside Lights: The Open Book, presented in partnership with Columbia University Libraries and The New York Public Library.

Earlier last week, Bwog Staff Writer Tara Lago covered the Morningside Lights crafting session for the time-honored lantern parade, crafting paper mache stories to fulfill this year’s theme, The Open Book. This theme was chosen in order to stand up against censorship and celebrate the books that shape us and our cultures. Each lantern is a carefully crafted book with the most important elements of the story bursting out of the pages. Every book was chosen by the lantern maker to exemplify the stories that make us who we are. Boy, oh boy, did they deliver.

As a lifelong reader, an English major, and a nepo baby for librarians (my mom is a librarian, duh), I felt especially drawn to this year’s Morningside Lights theme. I’m also a big fan of parades in general, so there was no way I could lose in this situation.

The procession begins in Morningside Park and ends in one final walk down the center of Columbia’s campus. So instead of waiting in front of Butler like everyone else, I dragged my good sport of a suitemate to Morningside Park to get an up close look at the lanterns and their creators while they were getting ready. Although we were definitely in people’s way, it was fascinating to see all of the community members who put their time and energy into the lanterns. Being up close with the book lovers shows the diversity of individuals who were drawn to this event. There were families, students, artists, and everyone in between. The books that were chosen as inspiration for the lanterns shared the same level of diversity. From Frog and Toad and Rainbow Fish to 100 Years of Solitude and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the books that impacted this community covered the entire gamut of literature. 

Community members lining up to claim their lanterns

Before the procession began, my suitemate and I cut through Morningside Park and made our way to the middle of Columbia’s campus to see the actual parade. I spent about forty minutes sitting around with friends and other people watching. A sizable crowd had formed as we waited, consisting of mostly students and families. I stood near a young girl on a Minions scooter who said “I love Morningside Lights!” She also said “kittens” instead of “cheese” when someone told her to smile for a picture. She and I had a lot in common.

Morningside Lights on campus!
Up close look at the lanterns!

After a while, the procession wound its way to the final stretch of the parade with Butler glowing in the background. Members of the community stood shoulder to shoulder, cheering for the lanterns, the people, the stories, the literature, the art, and their love of it all. This year’s theme was all about the freedom to read and taking a firm stance against censorship all while emphasizing the power that stories have in molding us into the people we are. But Morningside Lights goes even further: it’s about community and what we can build together. Regardless of one’s position as an audience member or lantern creator, the procession is a communal activity. What is a parade without people lined up to see it? What is a procession with no one, well, processing? What is a book without someone to read? What is a story if no one is willing to carry it?

In the wise wise words of a dear friend, “I love Morningside Lights!”

Images via Author