Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

“If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” —Toni Morrison

Illustration by Vivien Mildenberger

Illustration by Vivien Mildenberger

Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford) was born February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. Her parents, Ramah and George, moved to Ohio to escape southern racism and instilled a sense of heritage in their children by telling traditional African American folktales. As a child, Morrison loved to read. Her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. At age 12, she became a Catholic and received the baptismal name “Anthony”, which became the inspiration for her nickname “Toni”.

Morrison enrolled at Howard University in 1949, where she earned a B.A. in English. In 1955 she received a Master of Arts from Cornell. She went on to teach English at a university level for nine years before accepting a senior editor position at Random House in New York City. During her time with Random House, Morrison played a major role in bringing black literature to the mainstream.

Morrison's novels are epic stories with vivid dialogue and richly detailed characters, concentrating mostly on black women. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970 and tells the story of a black girl who longs to have blue eyes. Her second novel, Sula, was published in 1973, tells the story of a black woman whose defiance of gender norms and traditional morality, disrupts an entire community. Her third novel, Song of Solomon, published in 1977, focuses on the African American identity and relationships among African-Americans and brought Morrison national attention. Morrison's 1987 novel, Beloved, was inspired by the true story of runaway slave, Margaret Garner. The novel became a critical success and won her a Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award, and Nobel Prize for Literature. Her third novel, Song of Solomon, was published in 1977 and brought her national attention. Her 1987 novel, Beloved, was inspired by the true story of runaway slave, Margaret Garner. The novel became a critical success and won her a Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award, and Nobel Prize for Literature.

Morrison is praised as being a visionary and poet who enriches literary heritage and gives life to an essential aspect of American reality. In 1996, Morrison was selected for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor of achievement in humanities. She began her lecture with the aphorism, “Time, it seems, has no future” and cautioned against the misuse of history to diminish expectations in the future.

She received the presidential medal of Freedom in 2012. 


"I had the fortune to read The Bluest Eye with one of my favorite English teachers in high school. Morrison's novel, a chilling exemplification of how harmful racism and discriminatory ideals of beauty can be, particularly for children, has stuck with me to this day. It bears such an important message, especially now." - Vivien Mildenberger


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