for the Louisiana politician, see deLesseps Morrison, Jr.
Toni Morrison (born February 18, 1931) is one of the most prominent authors in world literature, having won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 for her collected works. Several of her novels have taken their place in the canon of American literature, including The Bluest Eye, Beloved (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction), and Song of Solomon. Morrison's writings are notable for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African American characters. In recent years, Morrison has published a number of children's books with her son, Slade Morrison.
Morrison's early years
Morrison was born as Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. Morrison was the second of four children in a working-class African American family. 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).
In 1949 Morrison entered Howard University to study humanities. While there she changed her name from "Chloe" to "Toni," explaining that people found "Chloe" too difficult to pronounce. Her name "Toni" comes from her middle name, Anthony. Morrison received a B.A. in English from Howard in 1953, then earned a Master of Arts degree from Cornell University in 1955.
Promoting Black literature
After graduation, Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas (from 1955-57) then returned to Howard to teach English. In 1958 she married Howard Morrison. They had two children and 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.
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 and Gayl Jones. She also 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. Currently, Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor of Humanities at Princeton University, a position she has held since 1989. Though based in the Creative Writing Program, Morrison does not regularly offer writing workshops to students, a fact that has 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 uses her insights to encourage not merely new and emerging writers, but artists who are constantly trying to develop new forms of art through interdisciplinary play and cooperation.In May 2006, the Princeton student newspaper reported that Morrison was retiring from her post at Princeton after over 17 years of loyal instruction. The school confirmed the report a day later.
That same day, the New York Times Book Review named her novel Beloved the best novel of the past 25 years.
The Bluest Eye (1970)
Morrison wrote her first novel, The Bluest Eye, while raising two children and teaching at Howard University. The novel's protagonist is Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl who prays each night to become a blue-eyed beauty like Shirley Temple. Breedlove's family has numerous problems and she believes everything would be okay if only she had beautiful blue eyes. Through the course of the novel, the narrator, Claudia MacTeer, describes the destruction of Pecola's life. The novel is set in Lorain, Ohio, the town in which Morrison grew up. The novel is controversial not only in its subject matter, but also in its structure. In it, Morrison rejects a chronological structure and a single narrator, as she does in many of her works, in favour of a splintered and multifaceted approach.
Sula depicts two black woman friends and their community of Medallion, Ohio. It follows the lives of Sula, considered a threat against the community, and her cherished friend Nel, from their childhood to maturity and to death. The novel was nominated for the National Book Award.
Song of Solomon (1977)
Morrison's third novel, Song of Solomon, 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). A family chronicle similar to Alex Haley's Roots, the novel follows the life of Macon "Milkman" Dead III, a black man living in Mercy, a city somewhere in Michigan, from birth to adulthood. The novel won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Tar Baby (1981)
Tar Baby takes place at the Caribbean mansion of a white millionaire Valerian Street and focuses on the themes of racial identity, sexuality, class, and family dynamics.
Beloved is loosely based on the life and legal case of Margaret Garner, an escaped slave who killed her child to prevent the child from being taken back into slavery. The book's central figure is Sethe, an escaped slave who murdered her two-year-old daughter, referred to as Beloved, to save her from a life of slavery. The novel follows in the tradition of slave narratives but also confronts the more painful and taboo aspects of slavery, such as sexual abuse and violence. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. When the novel failed to win the National Book Award, a number of writers protested the omission. Beloved was adapted into the 1998 film Beloved starring Oprah Winfrey. Morrison later used Margaret Garner's life story again in the opera of the same name. In May 2006, The New York Times "Book Review" named Beloved the best American novel written in the previous twenty five years.
A haunting and lyrical book, Jazz uses an innovative narrative technique to echo the improvisational character of the eponymous musical form.
This was the first novel released by Morrison following her receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Love is the story of Bill Cosey, a charismatic but dead hotel owner. Or rather, it is about the people around him, all affected by his life - even long after his death. The main characters are Christine, his granddaughter and Heed, his widow. The two are the same age and used to be friends but some forty years after Cosey's death they are sworn enemies, and yet share his mansion. Again Morrison used split narrative and jumps back and forth throughout the story, not fully unfolding until the very end.
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."
She currently holds a place on the editorial board of The Nation magazine.
Children's literature (with Slade Morrison)
"It seems to me that the novel is needed by African-Americans now in a way that it was not needed before... Parents do not sit around and tell their children those classical mythological, archetypal stories that we heard before. But new information has got to get out and there are several ways to do it. One is in the novel."
"I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and as a female person are greater than those of people who are neither... So it seems to me that my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger."