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Toni Morrison: Biography

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Toni Morrison: Biography

Toni Morrison

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Novelist Toni Morrison once said, "I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and a female person are greater than those of people who are neither...my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger." Throughout Morrison's career as a novelist, she has explored various aspects of the African-American experience including the great migration, racism, images of beauty and womanhood.

Early Life and Education

Morrison was born on February 18, 1931 in Lorian, Ohio. Her birth name was Chloe Anthony Wofford. Born in a working class family, Morrison's father, George Wofford told her folk tales about the African-American community. In addition, Morrison enjoyed reading novels by authors such as Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. Later in Morrison’s life, she has credited James Baldwin with encouraging her throughout her career.

In 1949, Morrison began her college career at Howard University. She received a bachelor's degree from Howard University and continued her education at Cornell University. Two years later, she graduated from Cornell University with a master's degree in English, writing a thesis on William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf.

Personal Life

Morrison was married in 1958 to Harold Morrison, an architect from Jamaica and faculty member at Howard University. The couple had two children, Harold and Slade before divorcing in 1964.

Professor and Editor

Following Morrison's graduation from Cornell University, she taught English at Texas Southern University for two years before accepting a position at Howard University. Following her divorce from Harold Morrison in 1964, she accepted a job as a textbook editor in Syracuse, NY. Almost two years later, Morrison began working as an editor at Random House. During this time, Morrison also taught at Yale University and Bard College. In her position at Random House Morrison played an instrumental role in helping African-American writers such as Angela Davis, Gayl Jones, and Toni Cade Bambara publish their books.

Novelist

While teaching at Howard University, Morrison began writing a story about a young black girl who wanted blue eyes. This short story later became her first novel, The Bluest Eye. In 1973, the novel Sula was published and was nominated for the National Book Award in 1975. Morrison's third novel, Song of Solomon helped her gain mainstream attention as an author. The novel not only won the National Book Critics Circle Award but was also selected for the Book-of-the-Month Club. This feat made Morrison the first writer to achieve such an honor such Richard Wright's Native Son was chosen for the main selection in 1940.

But Morrison's novel, Beloved is her most critically acclaimed. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the American Book Award. However, the novel did not win the National Book Award or the National Book Critics Circle Award. As a result, more than forty African-American book critics and writers protested the award organizations. Yet, the novel went on to be adapted into a film version in 1998. Morrison also used Margaret Garner, the woman whose story is portrayed in the novel in an opera. In 2006, almost twenty years after being published, Beloved was named the best American novel published in the past 25 years by The New York Times Book Review.

Other novels by Morrison include Tar Baby, published in 1981;Jazz, published in 1992; Paradise, 1997; Love, 2003; Home, 2012.

Achievements

Throughout Morrison’s career as a novelist, editor and educator, she has achieved many awards.

In 1987, Morrison became the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of Humanities at Princeton University, becoming the first African-American female writer to hold such a position at an Ivy League University.

In 1993, Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature for creating novels that "characterized by visionary force and poetic import, giving life to an essential aspect of American reality."

Three years later, Morrison received the National Book Foundation's Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for her ability to "enrich our literary heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work."

Most recently, in 2012, Morrison received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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