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Toni Morrison (21711 hits)

Toni Morrison

(1931-    )

Background and Early Years

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931. She is a Nobel prize-winning American author, editor and professor. 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, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. In 2001, she was named one of the Thirty Most Powerful Women in America by Ladies' Home Journal magazine.

Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, the second of four children in a working-class family. As a child, Morrison read constantly, some of her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. Morrison's father, George Wofford, a welder by trade, told her numerous folktales stemming from the Black community and history. This method of storytelling would later work its way into Morrison's writings.

 In 1949, Morrison entered Howard University to study English. While there, she adopted the nickname of "Toni," which derives from her middle name, Anthony. Morrison received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Howard in 1953, then earned a Master of Arts degree, also in English, from Cornell University in 1955, for which she wrote a thesis on the theme of suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf.

After graduation, Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University in Houston from 1955 to 1957. She then returned to Howard to teach English, and she became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. In 1958, she married a man named Harold Morrison. They had two sons, Harold and Slade, but divorced in 1964. Following the divorce, Morrison moved to Syracuse, N.Y., 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 publishing company.

The Gifted Author

As an editor, Morrison played an important role in bringing Black literature into the mainstream. She edited books by such Black authors as Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis and Gayl Jones. Morrison began writing fiction as part of an informal group of poets and writers at Howard 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 published in 1970, which she wrote while raising two children and teaching at Howard. Thirty years later, it was chosen as a selection for Oprah's Book Club.

In 1973, her novel Sula was nominated for the National Book Award. Her third novel, Song of Solomon published in 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. Sula won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

In 1988, Morrison's novel Beloved became a critical success. When the novel failed to win the National Book Award as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award, a number of writers protested. Shortly afterward, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Beloved was adapted into the 1998 film of the same name, which starred 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 May of 2006, The New York Times Book Review named Beloved the best American novel published in the previous 25 years.

In 1993, Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making her the first Black woman to win the award. The prize 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, N.Y., home.

Although her novels typically concentrate on Black women, Morrison does not identify her works as feminist. 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." In addition to her novels, Morrison has co-written books for children with her youngest son, Slade, who works as a painter and musician.

Literature Still Calls

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-New York. From 1989 until her retirement in 2006, Morrison held the Robert F. Goheen chair position in the Humanities Department at Princeton University.

Though based in the Creative Writing Program, Morrison did not regularly offer writing workshops to students after the late 1990s, a decision that earned her some criticism. Rather, she has 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. In her position at Princeton, Morrison used her insights to encourage not merely new and emerging writers, but her peers to develop new forms of art through interdisciplinary play and cooperation.

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 of 2005. In November of 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." She currently holds a place on the editorial board of The Nation magazine.

Morrison caused a stir when she called Bill Clinton "the first Black president," saying "Clinton displays almost every trope of Blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas." This opinion was adopted by Clinton supporters like the Congressional Black Caucus or ridiculed by critics. It should be noted that Morrison's statement was intended to draw parallels between the treatment of Clinton by some of his opponents in general, and during his impeachment proceedings in particular, and the experience of those Blacks who have been persecuted by public authorities for their skin color, rather than being in reference to Clinton's background.


Published Work:



Honors and Awards:



Sources:; Dreifus, Claudia. "Chloe Wofford Talks about Toni Morrison," The New York Times, September 11, 1994; Larson, Susan. "Awaiting Toni Morrison," The Times-Picayune, April 11, 2007; "Toni Morrison: Words Of Love," CBS News, April 4, 2004; Grimes, William. "Toni Morrison Is '93 Winner Of Nobel Prize in Literature," The New York Times, October 8, 1993; Jaffrey, Zia. "The Salon Interview with Toni Morrison,", February 2, 1998; style="background: #f8fcff">

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Tuesday, March 11th 2008 at 3:23PM
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