Toni Morrison was born “Chloe Anthony Wofford” in Lorain, Ohio, after her parents moved north to avoid the problems of Southern racism. Her family was made up of migrants and sharecroppers on both sides. She grew up in the Midwest and read everything from Jane Austen to Tolstoy. Morrison’s father, George, was a welder who told her black community folktales, passing on his African-American heritage to her generation.
She enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., one of America’s most prestigious black colleges, in 1949. Morrison continued her education at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, earning her M.A. in 1955. Morrison taught English at Texas Southern University in Houston from 1955 to 1957. She also taught in Howard’s English department.
Morrison married Jamaican architect Harold Morrison in 1958. Harold Ford and Slade Kevin were their two children. In 1964, she divorced Harold after six years of marriage. Morrison wrote her first novel, “The Bluest Eyes,” while working and caring for her children, and it became widely known in the public domain in 1970.
Morrison continued to write novels and was later appointed in the spring of 1989 to fill the position of Robert Goheen, a Professor of the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University. As a result, she became the first black woman to hold a position at an Ivy League institution. Morrison now lives in Princeton, New Jersey, where he continues to teach fiction.
Morrison’s literary career began with the publication of “The Bluest Eye” in 1970. The novel, set in Morrison’s hometown, received critical acclaim but failed to pique the public’s interest. Morrison’s second novel, “Sula,” was published in 1973 and is known for its insightful portrayal of the African-American lifestyle. Sula received the Ohioana Book Award and was nominated for a National Book Award. “Song of Solomon,” her next novel, was a paperback best seller.
Morrison won two more awards for it, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award for its homage to the richness of black cultural heritage. Morrison later published “Beloved” in 1987. This novel depicted the horrifying lives of slaves, as well as how one ex-past slave’s haunted her.
The novel achieved international acclaim and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. “Beloved” also received the New York State Governor’s Arts Award, the First Washington College Literary Award, a National Book Award nomination, and a National Book Critics Circle Award nomination.
Furthermore, Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 for “giving life to an essential aspect of American reality in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import.” She was the eighth woman and the first African-American to receive the award. She was overjoyed and honored to learn the news from a colleague at Princeton University.
“What is most wonderful for me, personally, is that the Prize has finally been awarded to an African-American,” she added. Winning as an American is special, but winning as a Black American is out of this world.” After receiving the highest literary honor, Morrison continued her success and re-entered the best-seller list with the publication of Paradise, and later wrote “The Big Box” with her son.
Morrison was chosen for the Jefferson Lecture in 1996 by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the United States federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. She received the Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation in 1996.
Morrison wrote the libretto for Margaret Garner, a new opera that premiered in 2005. President Barack Obama awarded Morrison the Presidential Medal of Freedom on May 29, 2012. She received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction in 2016.
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