The thought that something must be done came to poet June Jordan during lunch last month.

Jordan was eating with Toni Morrison, author of the bestselling novel "Beloved," and talking about the fact that Morrison had been nominated for, but did not win, both the National Book and the National Book Critics Circle awards this year.

"She spoke about what this might mean about how people regard her work," Jordan said yesterday. "The awards are the only kind of validation that makes sense in the literary world. And she was having really serious doubts about her work."

Jordan, a friend and admirer, was distressed by that. "I thought, what can we do -- what I meant by 'we' was the national black community -- to say, 'Wait a minute, we love what you're doing, and what you've done,' " Jordan said.

What Jordan and 47 other black writers and critics did was write and sign a tribute to Morrison that at the same time praised her and criticized the "oversight and harmful whimsy" of a literary establishment that has failed to give her either the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize. She did win the Critics Circle Award in 1977 for her novel "Song of Solomon."

This year's Pulitzer Prize in fiction has yet to be bestowed. Both Jordan and signatory John Wideman, a PEN/Faulkner Award winner, emphasized yesterday that they did not intend their statements to lobby the Pulitzer judges.

But the comments are bound to provoke controversy even though Jordan said they were "something which we all felt was in and of itself an award. This is not a means to an end."

The statement, and an accompanying letter signed by Jordan and University of Pennsylvania English Prof. Houston A. Baker Jr., will appear in The New York Times Book Review this Sunday. Among the letter's signatories are writers Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, Alice Walker and Angela Davis and scholars Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Arnold Rampersad.

"Despite the international stature of Toni Morrison, she has yet to receive the national recognition that her five major works of fiction entirely deserve: she has yet to receive the keystone honors of the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize," it reads. "... we write this testament of thanks to you, dear Toni: alive, beloved and persevering, magical."

Baker said that Jordan spoke with him after her lunch with Morrison.

"{Jordan's} general sense was that what had transpired with the National Book Award and transpired with the critics was part of a historic pattern of Afro-Americans producing works that are of colossal importance for the nation and the world -- that show brilliance and talent -- not receiving recognition," said Baker. "I think our act as a group was an act of love, but also an act of love that pointed to certain deficiencies that might have caused a person who is deeply beloved to feel terribly, terribly badly."

Morrison said through her secretary that she would not comment on the statements. When the literary season began she was thought to be a very strong candidate for the major awards, and while many authors over the years have questioned both the judging process and the underlying merit of literary awards, Jordan said that this particular brand of literary approval remains very important for many authors.

"The only forms available to any of us -- of whatever color or persuasion -- for validation as writers, repose in these silly, artificial artifacts of the awards committees," Jordan said.

"I think no one wanted it to be simply a drumming up of support for a specific work," said Wideman. "It was a question of acknowledging one of our own, in a sense, and also telling other people, 'Hey, if we feel this way, maybe there's something to it.' "

"Beloved" was, generally, reviewed very favorably and has been on The Washington Post's best-seller list for 18 weeks. One East Coast NBCC board member said: "Of all books to come out this year, you can't complain that this one's been ignored. It's ridiculous." The board member said that "discussion simply did not linger on" Morrison's book, and that "if someone had had a strong argument, it would have been taken very seriously." The critics chose to name Philip Roth's "The Counterlife" as their winner.

Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Richard Eder served on the National Book Award panel along with novelists Hilma Wolitzer and Gloria Naylor, the latter a black author who had won the 1983 NBA for a first novel, "The Women of Brewster Place," the same year Alice Walker won the NBA for "The Color Purple."

Eder said of this year's contest, "None of the five books were second-placers." The panel eventually gave the award to Larry Heinemann's "Paco's Story," a book by a relative unknown -- a decision that has already caused much debate in literary circles. Eder insisted there was "not the slightest racial consideration at any point" in the deliberations. Naylor would not comment on either the board's decision or the letter in The Times Book Review.

Jordan, who wrote both the letter and statement, and Baker were pleased by the number of people who signed the general statement. "It seems to me it's the first time ever that we have been in a position as a community to come forward, resonantly and in harmony and say one thing without any doubt," said Baker.

The letter comes less than two months after the death of author James Baldwin, who was honored at a memorial service in which Morrison gave a eulogy. In their letter Jordan and Baker said, "It is a fact that James Baldwin, celebrated worldwide and posthumously designated as 'immortal' and as the 'conscience of his generation' ... never received the honor of these keystones to the canon of American literature: the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize: never."

"His death was very recent among us," Jordan said yesterday about Baldwin. "What we have undertaken to do is to pay tribute to a great American writer in our midst while she is alive. I'm talking about before you're dead. It's now, when you need it, when you've finished one work and you're about to pick up your pen to commence another one."

Jordan said she had hoped the letter would come as a surprise to Morrison and was sorry that she learned of it through a New York Times article that appeared earlier this week. Jordan called Morrison about another matter. "All I can say is she seemed utterly surprised, I'd say shocked," said Jordan. "She said, 'This is for me?' I said, 'You bet. You bet. Who else?' "

Washington Post staff writer Charles Truehart contributed to this report.