, , United States
|| February 18, 1931
|Contributor||The Sunset Provision|
|Last Modifed||The Sunset Provision|
Jan 28, 2008 10:45am
|Info||Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize-winning American author, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African American 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 2001 she was named one of the "30 Most Powerful Women in America" by Ladies' Home Journal. |
Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, the second of four children in a working-class 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 English. While there she began going by the nickname of "Toni," which derives from her middle name, Anthony. 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 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. 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, Angela Davis and Gayl Jones.
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. In 2000 it was chosen as a selection for Oprah's Book Club.
In 1973 her novel Sula 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 the omission. 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 African American woman to win it. 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.
Although her novels typically concentrate on African American women, Morrison does not identify her works as feminist. 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."
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.
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.
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."
She currently holds a place on the editorial board of The Nation magazine.
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." This opinion was adopted by Clinton supporters like the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) or ridiculed by critics. She has since endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008