Toni Morrison Explained

Toni Morrison
Born:February 18, 1931
Birthplace:Lorain, Ohio, United States
Occupation:Novelist, editor
Genre:African American literature
Notableworks:Beloved, Song of Solomon
Influences:James Baldwin, William Faulkner, Doris Lessing, Herman Melville
Influenced:Bell Hooks, Octavia Butler

Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia[1] Wofford on February 18, 1931), 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 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Toni Morrison on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[2]

Early life and career

Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, the second of four children in a working-class family.[3] 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).[4]

In 1949 Morrison entered Howard University to study English. Morrison received a B.A. 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 suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf . After graduation, Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas (from 1955-57) then returned to Howard to teach English. She became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

In 1958 she married a Jamaican named Harold Morrison. They had two children, Harold and Slade, and divorced in 1964. After the divorce she moved to Syracuse, New York, where she worked as a textbook editor. A year and a half later she went to work as an editor at the New York City headquarters of Random House.[5]

As an editor, Morrison played an important role in bringing black literature into the mainstream. She edited books by such authors as Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis and Gayl Jones.[6]

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.[5] In 2000 it was chosen as a selection for Oprah's Book Club.[7]

In 1975 her novel Sula (1973) 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.

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 over the omission.[5] [8] Shortly afterward, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. 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 May 2006, The New York Times Book Review named Beloved the best American novel published in the previous twenty-five years.

In 1993 Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first black woman to win it.[9] 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.[3] [10]

In 1996 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Morrison for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities.[11] Morrison's lecture, entitled "The Future of Time: Literature and Diminished Expectations,"[12] began with the aphorism, "Time, it seems, has no future," and cautioned against misuse of history to diminish expectations of the future.[13]

Although her novels typically concentrate on black women, Morrison does not identify her works as feminist.[14] 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."[14]

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.[4]

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 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 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.

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." Inspired by her curatorship, Morrison returned to Princeton in Fall 2008 to lead a small seminar, also entitled "The Foreigner's Home."

She is currently a member of the editorial board of The Nation magazine.


In writing about the impeachment in 1998, Morrison wrote that, since Whitewater, Bill Clinton had been mistreated because of his "blackness":The phrase "our first Black president" was adopted as a positive by Clinton supporters such as on September 29, 2001, when the Congressional Black Caucus honored the former president at its Annual Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C., with the chair, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), telling the audience that Clinton "took so many initiatives he made us think for a while we had elected the first black president."[15] .

In the context of the 2008 Democratic Primary campaign, Morrison stated to Time magazine: "People misunderstood that phrase. I was deploring the way in which President Clinton was being treated, vis-à-vis the sex scandal that was surrounding him. I said he was being treated like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp. I have no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race."[16] In the Democratic primary contest for the 2008 presidential race, Morrison endorsed Senator Barack Obama over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, though expressing admiration and respect for the latter.[17]



Children's literature (with Slade Morrison)

Short stories





Awards and nominations



See also

External links

Notes and References

  1. John N. Duvall. The Identifying Fictions of Toni Morrison: Modernist Authenticity and Postmodern Blackness.
  2. Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  3. News: Dreifus. Claudia. CHLOE WOFFORD Talks about TONI MORRISON. The New York Times. September 11, 1994. 2007-06-11.
  4. News: Larson. Susan. Awaiting Toni Morrison. The Times-Picayune. April 11, 2007. 2007-06-11.
  5. News: Grimes. William. Toni Morrison Is '93 Winner Of Nobel Prize in Literature. The New York Times. October 8, 1993. 2007-06-11.
  6. News: Verdelle. A. J.. Paradise found: a talk with Toni Morrison about her new novel - Nobel Laureate's new book, 'Paradise' - Interview. Essence Magazine. February 1998. 2007-06-11.
  7. "The Bluest Eye" at Oprah's Book Club official page
  8. News: Menand. Louis. All That Glitters - Literature's global economy. The New Yorker. December 26, 2005. 2007-06-11.
  9. News: Toni Morrison: Words Of Love. CBS News. April 4, 2004. 2007-06-11.
  10. News: New York Home of Toni Morrison Burns. The New York Times. December 26, 1993. 2007-06-11.
  11. Jefferson Lecturers
  12. Toni Morrison, "The Future of Time, Literature and Diminished Expectations," reprinted in Toni Morrison, What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction (Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2008), ISBN 9781604730173, pp.170-186.
  13. B. Denise Hawkins, "Marvelous Morrison - Toni Morrison - Award-Winning Author Talks About the Future From Some Place in Time," Diverse Online (formerly Black Issues In Higher Education), Jun 17, 2007.
  14. News: Jaffrey. Zia. The Salon Interview with Toni Morrison. February 2, 1998. 2007-06-11.
  15. "Congressional Black Caucus,"
  16. Sachs, Andrea."10 Questions for Toni Morrison", Time, May 7, 2008.
  17. Alexander, Elizabeth."Our first black president?, It's worth remembering the context of Toni Morrison's famous phrase about Bill Clinton so we can retire it, now that Barack Obama is a contender.",, January 28, 2008.