Toni Morrison was born named Chloe Anthony Wofford, on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. She was the daughter of Ramah and George Wofford. When Morrison entered the first grade, she was the only black student in her class and also the only child who had already learned to read. She eventually graduated from Howard University in 1953 with a degree in English, and later earned a master’s degree from Cornell. Friends at college started calling her Toni because of her middle name.
Morrison returned to Howard University to teach English in 1957, after two years of teaching at (TSU) Texas Southern University. While teaching at Howard she met and married a Jamaican architect, Harold Morrison. Together they had two sons, Harold Ford and Slade Kevin. In the following years she joined a writer’s group in which she wrote a short story about a little black girl who wanted blue eyes. She eventually developed that story into her first novel, The Bluest Eye.
In 1964, Toni and Harold Morrison divorced, and Toni moved to New York with her two young sons. She began working as a book editor at Random House in 1965. Over the next 20 years, Morrison moved into a senior editorial position with the company and shepherded the literary efforts of a number of prominent African-Americans, including Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis, Andrew Young, and Toni Cade Bambara (Morrison).
Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye was published in 1970 but did not seem to sell well. She had more marketable success with her second novel, Sula in 1973, the story of a close friendship between two women in a Midwestern black community called “The Bottom.” With her next novel, Song of Solomon in 1977, Morrison switched her viewpoint towards the African-American man, named Milkman Dead, who takes a journey south from his hometown in Ohio to learn more about his family history. It became a paperback bestseller and won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for fiction.
Tar Baby published in 1981, is a passionate tale of class, racial, and sexual conflict set on a Caribbean island, and which it stayed on bestseller lists for four consecutive months. Morrison left Random House in 1983 to concentrate on her writing and teaching careers. In 1987, she published Beloved, the story of a former slave, Sethe, who is haunted by the ghost of her murdered daughter and is visited by a strange, beautiful young woman calling herself Beloved. The novel won international acclaim, including the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it permanently established Morrison in the upper echelon of twentieth-century authors (Morrison).
Morrison often compares writing in this era to writing while a war is taking place. Her refusal and fearlessness to sugarcoat the truth on the page is what I think makes her prose some of the best around. On writing she has said “I’m sometimes frightened of what I write, but I can’t look away. I will not look away.
That’s the one place where I’m going to, you know, make eye contact. It’s a free place for me. It’s not always safe, but that’s the one place where all my little vulnerabilities, and cowardice, cannot come to the surface” (Hedge).
In 1987, Morrison became the first black woman ever to hold a chair at an Ivy League school like Princeton University. She published Jazz, a novel about the stunning 1920s Harlem world. A sequence of personal tragediesincluding the death of her mother and the destruction by fire of her home in Grand View-on-Hudson, New Yorkwas lightened by professional success in 1993 when Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. She was the first African-American, and only the eighth woman ever to be named a Nobel laureate, which is the highest honor in the field. Morrison’s continuing popularity became evident in 1996, when Song of Solomon resurfaced on bestseller lists after a little help from one of her more powerful fans, Oprah Winfrey, who also starred in the 1998 film version of Beloved. In 1998, Morrison published her seventh novel, Paradise, which is set in a black utopian community in Oklahoma. Toni Morrison now lives in Princeton, New Jersey.