Authors Profiles

Author Profile: Toni Morrison

A profile of author Toni Morrison. (Also a feature of March 2011 Women’s History Month)

Author and Educator Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is undoubtedly a phenomenal woman. The American author, editor, and professor is the first African-American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded in 1993.

Toni was born in Lorain, Ohio as Chloe Wofford on February 18, 1931, and she spent her early years devouring classics by authors like Tolstoy, Austen, and Flaubert.  This love for literature was augmented with an intimate connection with her own family’s culture shared by the songs, rituals, and folktales of the black community that filled her childhood home.

This inundation of expressive storytelling reflects in Toni Morrison’s much-acclaimed voice.  Her works are visceral and full of lush detail.  Many of stories revolve around the expressive and moving dialogue between very tangible African-American characters.

The bright young woman graduated with honors from high school in 1949, graduated from Howard University in 1953, and earned her Master of Arts degree in English from Cornell University in 1955.    The next couple of years found her teaching English at Texas Southern University and then Howard University until 1964, when she became the first African-American female editor at Random House in New York.  This position allowed her an opportunity to bring black literature into the public view as she edited works by Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis, and Toni Cade Bambara.

Toni Morrison began to develop her own fiction around this time period, starting with a very short story based on a young black girl she remembered in school who prayed to God for blue eyes, which later grew into her first published novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970. Her second novel, Sula, was published in 1973 and it was nominated for the 1975 National Book Award in fiction.

Sula, First Edition, Signed, Offered by Ken Lopez, Bookseller, ABAA

Toni Morrison’s third novel was published in 1977 and it was her most popular title yet, with a new focus on on strong black male characters that she gleaned from watching her sons grow.  Song of Solomon won the National Book Critic’s Circle Award, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, and saw Morrison appointed to the National Council on the Arts by President Carter.

Her novel Beloved was published in 1987 and won the 1988 Pulitzer prize for fiction.

“I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked [James] Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don’t know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That’s what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say ‘people,’ that’s what I mean.”
— Toni Morrison

The Toni Morrison Society webpage

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