Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison 2008-2.jpg
Toni Morrison in 2008
Born February 18 1931(1931-02-18)
Ohio, United States
Died August 5 2019 (aged 88)
New York City, U.S.
Occupation Novelist, editor
Genres African American literature
Notable work(s) Beloved, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye
Notable award(s) Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Nobel Prize in Literature
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Influences James Baldwin, William Faulkner, Doris Lessing, Herman Melville
Influenced bell hooks , Octavia Butler
Signature TMorrisonsignature.JPG

Toni Morrison (February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019), was a Nobel Prize-winning American author, editor, and professor. Morrison helped promote Black literature and authors when she worked as an editor for Random House in the 1960s and 1970s, where she edited books by authors including Toni Cade Bambara and Gayl Jones. Morrison herself would later emerge as one of the most important African American writers of the twentieth century.

Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed black characters; among the best known are her novels The Bluest Eye, published in 1970, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. This story describes a slave who found freedom but killed her infant daughter to save her from a life of slavery. Another important novel is Song of Solomon, a tale about materialism and brotherhood.


Morrison is the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2001 she was named one of the "30 Most Powerful Women in America" by Ladies' Home Journal.

Early life and career

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, the second of four children in a working-class family.[1] As a child, Morrison read constantly; among her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. Morrison's father, George Wofford, a welder by trade, told her numerous folktales of the Black community (a method of storytelling that would later work its way into Morrison's writings).[2]

In 1949 Morrison entered Howard University to study English. While there she began going by the nickname of "Toni," which derives from her middle name, Anthony.[1][3] Morrison received a B.A. in English from Howard University in 1953, then earned a Master of Arts degree, also in English, from Cornell University in 1955, for which she wrote a thesis on suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf.[4] After graduation, Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas (from 1955-1957) then returned to Howard to teach English. She became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

In 1958 she married Harold Morrison. They had two children, Harold and Slade, but divorced in 1964. After the divorce she moved to Syracuse, New York, where she worked as a textbook editor. Eighteen months later she went to work as an editor at the New York City headquarters of Random House.[4]

As an editor, Morrison played an important role in bringing African American literature into the mainstream. She edited books by such Black authors as Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis and Gayl Jones.

Writing career

Morrison began writing fiction as part of an informal group of poets and writers at Howard University who met to discuss their work. She went to one meeting with a short story about a black girl who longed to have blue eyes. The story later evolved into her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), which she wrote while raising two children and teaching at Howard.[4]In 2000 it was chosen as a selection for Oprah's Book Club.[5]

In 1973 her novel Sula was nominated for the National Book Award. Her third novel, Song of Solomon (1977), brought her national attention. The book was a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, the first novel by a Black writer to be so chosen since Richard Wright's Native Son in 1940. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award.


Her novel, Beloved, won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize. The novel is loosely based on the life and legal case of the slave Margaret Garner, about whom Morrison later wrote in the opera Margaret Garner (2005). The Book's Epigraph says: "Sixty Million and more." Morrison is referring to the estimated number of slaves who died in the slave trade. More specifically, she is referring to the Middle Passage.

A survey of eminent authors and critics conducted by The New York Times found Beloved the best work of American fiction of the past 25 years; it garnered 15 of 125 votes, finishing ahead of Don DeLillo's Underworld (11 votes), Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian (8) and John Updike's Rabbit series (8).[6] The results appeared in The New York Times Book Review on May 21, 2006.[7]

TIME Magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[8]

When the novel failed to win the National Book Award as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award, a number of writers protested the omission.[4][9] Beloved was adapted into the 1998 film of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. Morrison later used Margaret Garner's life story again in an opera, Margaret Garner, with music by Richard Danielpour.

In 1993 Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first Black woman to win the award.[3] Her citation reads: Toni Morrison, "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality." Shortly afterwards, a fire destroyed her Rockland County, New York home.[1][10]

Although her novels typically concentrate on black women, Morrison does not identify her works as feminist.[11] She has stated that she thinks "it's off-putting to some readers, who may feel that I'm involved in writing some kind of feminist tract. I don't subscribe to patriarchy, and I don't think it should be substituted with matriarchy. I think it's a question of equitable access, and opening doors to all sorts of things."[11]

In addition to her novels, Morrison has also co-written books for children with her youngest son, Slade Morrison, who works as a painter and musician.

Later life

Morrison taught English at two branches of the State University of New York. In 1984 she was appointed to an Albert Schweitzer chair at the University at Albany, The State University of New York. From 1989 until her retirement in 2006, Morrison held the Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities at Princeton University.[2]

Though based in the Creative Writing Program, Morrison did not regularly offer writing workshops to students after the late 1990s, a fact that earned her some criticism. Rather, she conceived and developed the prestigious Princeton Atelier, a program that brings together talented students with critically acclaimed, world-famous artists. Together the students and the artists produce works of art that are presented to the public after a semester of collaboration. In her position at Princeton, Morrison used her insights to encourage not merely new and emerging writers, but artists working to develop new forms of art through interdisciplinary play and cooperation.

Morrison died at Montefiore Medical Center in The Bronx, New York City on August 5, 2019, from complications of pneumonia. She was 88 years old.

Awards and honors

At its 1979 commencement ceremonies, Barnard College awarded her its highest honor, the Barnard Medal of Distinction. Oxford University awarded her an honorary Doctor of Letters degree in June 2005.

In November 2006, Morrison visited the Louvre Museum in Paris as the second in its Grand Invité program to guest-curate a month-long series of events across the arts on the theme of "The Foreigner's Home."

In May 2011, Morrison received an Honorable Doctor of Letters Degree from Rutgers University during commencement where she delivered a speech of the "pursuit of life, liberty, meaningfulness, integrity, and truth."

In March 2012, Morrison established a residency at Oberlin College.

She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved and the Nobel Prize in 1993. In May 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

She was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2008 for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for Who's Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper? The Lion or the Mouse? Poppy or the Snake?



Children's literature (with Slade Morrison)

  • The Big Box (2002)
  • The Book of Mean People (2002)

Short stories

  • "Recitatif" (1983)


  • Dreaming Emmett (performed 1986)


  • Margaret Garner (first performed May 2005)


  • The Black Book (1974)
  • Birth of a Nation'hood (co-editor) (1997)
  • Playing in the Dark (1992)
  • Remember:The Journey to School Integration (April 2004)


  • "This Amazing, Troubling Book" (An analysis of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Claudia Dreifus, "CHLOE WOFFORD Talks about TONI MORRISON." The New York Times, September 11, 1994. Retrieved June 11, 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Susan Larson, "Awaiting Toni Morrison." The Times-Picayune, April 11, 2007. Retrieved June 11, 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Toni Morrison: Words Of Love" CBS News, April 4, 2004. Retrieved June 11, 2007.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 William Grimes, "Toni Morrison Is '93 Winner Of Nobel Prize in Literature" The New York Times, October 8, 1993. Retrieved June 11, 2007.
  5. "The Bluest Eye" at Oprah's Book Club official page. oprah. Retrieved July 10, 2008.
  6. A. O. Scott, In Search of the Best - New York Times Sunday book review.
  7. What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?, The New York Times May 21, 2006. Retrieved July 10, 2008.
  8. Beloved - ALL-TIME 100 Novels - TIME. Retrieved July 10, 2008.
  9. Louis Menand, "All That Glitters - Literature's global economy" The New Yorker, December 26, 2005. Retrieved June 11, 2007.
  10. "New York Home of Toni Morrison Burns." The New York Times, December 26, 1993. Retrieved June 11, 2007.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Zia Jaffrey, "The Salon Interview with Toni Morrison" February 2, 1998. Retrieved June 11, 2007.


External links

All links retrieved November 24, 2014.


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