MORRISON, TONI (18th Feb. 1931 - 5th Aug. 2019) was a renowned and award-winning American author and professor. Morrison wrote extensively about the plight of African Americans and Black people, focusing on the Black female experience. 

Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18th, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio, to George and Ramah Willis Wofford. Morrison was the second youngest of four siblings. 

As a child, Morrison was heavily inspired by her parents' upbringings, moral values, and southern heritage. Morrison’s parents educated her about racism against African Americans in the United States. Her parents reinforced the notion of community and fostered a sense of security, strength, and hope in Morrison. These community-driven values focused on the Black community greatly influenced Morrison’s literary work. 

During high school, Morrison was introduced to authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Jane Austen. Although Morrison felt a large dichotomy between her Black female world and the authors’ white European worlds, she was able to better comprehend cultural specificity and the differences between her own and white peoples’ experiences.  

In 1949, Morrison graduated from Lorain High School with honors. Morrison then went on to attend Howard University and received a B.A. in English and a minor in Classics upon her graduation in 1953. During Morrison’s college years, she became involved in theater and traveled the South performing in front of Black audiences. Her time in the South gave her a better understanding of racism and discrimination against African Americans. 

In 1953, Morrison enrolled in Cornell University, where she received her master’s degree in English in 1955. Morrison then relocated to Texas, where she accepted a position to teach at Texas Southern University. Morrison taught there for two years. It was there that she began to develop political views about Black America, contending that Black people needed greater economic independence in order to preserve their values and culture. 

In 1957, Morrison returned to Howard University to teach English. During this time, she met Harold Morrison. They married in 1958 and had their first child, Harold, in 1961. Soon after, Morrison began to feel dissatisfied with their marriage.  In 1964, Morrison divorced Harold. However, she was already pregnant with their second child. Morrison decided to move back with her family in Ohio before giving birth to her second son, Slade. 

In 1965, Morrison and her sons moved to Syracuse, New York, where she took an editorial position at Random House. For the following years of her life, Morrison taught at Yale University, Bard College, and Princeton University, among others. 

In 1970, Morrison’s literary career took off. She published her first novel The Bluest Eye in 1970 under the pseudonym Toni Morrison. The Bluest Eye was deemed controversial at the time for touching upon racism, sexism, intersectionality, and white beauty standards. It did not sell well, but her next title Sula (1973) did. Sula was well received and was nominated for the National Book Award in 1975. 

Morrison’s third book, Song of Solomon (1977), made history as it was the first book by an African American author to be featured in the Book of the Month club. Song of Solomon would go on to receive various awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award.  

During the 1980s, Morrison was universally recognized as a literary master. In 1980, Morrison was appointed to the National Council on the Arts. In 1981, she published Tar Baby. While Tar Baby was a success, her next work Beloved (1987) was regarded as one of her greatest works. 

Beloved (1987) went on to receive numerous awards, such as the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 1998, a film adaptation of Beloved was created. Beloved became such an influential book that it was named by The New York Times Book Review as the best novel of the past 25 years. 

In 1989, Morrison became a professor at Princeton University. A few years later, Morrison once again made history to become the first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. 

For the next few decades of her life, Morrison continued her successful literary career by writing other novels, children’s books, and non-fiction literature such as The Big Box (1999),  Love (2003), What Moves at the Margin (2008), Home (2012), and God Help the Child (2015), among others. 

In 2012, Morrison was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. 

On August, 15th, 2019, Morrison passed away at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. 

Therese Ruane


Article Categories