Toni Morrison
National Visionary

Born February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio

Author; the first African American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature

Writing in a style that has been described as nonlinear and nonsequential, author Toni Morrison’s works turn a critical eye towards subjects that most authors shy away from: racism, segregation versus integration, incest, rape, slavery, infanticide and exploitation. Her narratives weave in spirituality, folk tradition, myth and fantasy combined with much historical detail and research. Over the years, Morrison has resisted the categorization of her work and calls herself a “black woman writer writing for an audience of readers like her.”

Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford to parents Ramah Willis and George Wofford. Her parents were southern sharecroppers who migrated from Alabama to the small steel town of Lorain, outside of Cleveland, Ohio. She and her three siblings grew up in a tradition of family, African-American folklore and storytelling. She also learned hard lessons about racism and the potential for social change.

After graduating from her town’s integrated but predominantly white high school in 1949, Morrison continued her education at Howard University. She majored in English and minored in classics. While at Howard she adopted the name “Toni” and joined the Howard University Players, a drama troupe. While touring with the group in the South, Morrison witnessed the effects of Jim Crow on African Americans. These experiences later influenced her writing. She earned an M.A. in English from Cornell and accepted a teaching position at Texas Southern University in 1955. She returned to Howard in 1957.

By 1964, she became an editor for Random House text books in Syracuse, N.Y. In 1968, she moved to New York City and became a senior editor at Random House for 20 years, mentoring writers such as Toni Cade Bambara, Gayle Jones and Angela Davis. While at Random House, she re-wrote a short story she had originally composed as part of a writers group. She expanded this short story into her first novel, The Bluest Eye, published in 1969.

In the years that followed, Morrison wrote Sula and Song of Solomon (winner of the 1977 National Book Critics Award) and Tar Baby. She left Random House in 1983 to teach at the State University of New York in Albany where she wrote her first play, Dreaming Emmett about the murder of Emmett Till. Morrison’s most haunting work, Beloved, was published in 1987 to critical and commercial acclaim. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was made into a movie in 1998 starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. In the 1990’s, Morrison wrote Jazz and Paradise, her sixth and seventh novels. In 1993, she was the first African American writer to win a Nobel Prize for Literature.

Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor, Emeritus at Princeton University where she founded the Atelier program, a collaborative arts project. She is the author of eight novels, one play, four children’s books and several edited collections and critical essays. Love, her eighth novel, was published in 2003.



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