Toni Morrison Biography

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Toni Morrison, the eighth American to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, is a widely acclaimed African-American writer. Her strong ties to her black culture and oral tradition create a rich foundation for her novels.

Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. Her family had migrated North to escape racial prejudice and to seek educational and employment opportunities. In Ohio, Morrison was predominantly surrounded by racist whites. However, this did not stop her from achieving great success. She attended Lorain High School, where she excelled as a student. She was a member of the student council, worked in the school library (an honor at her school), and was an associate editor of the high school yearbook.She graduated with honors.

Morrison attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious colleges. There she was shocked to find superficiality among the students around her. Most people seemed concerned with socializing, their physical appearance, and going to parties. Morrison was mostly concerned with her studies and sometimes found it difficult to find a place for herself at Howard. People had trouble pronouncing her name, so she shortened it to her middle name, Anthony. This later became her now accepted name, "Toni." She majored in English and minored in classics. While at school, she discovered the theater and became a member of the Howard University Players, the campus theatrical company. After graduating from Howard, she received a Master's degree in English from Cornell University in 1955. From there, Morrison went to Texas Southern University in Houston, to teach introductory English.

In 1957, Morrison returned to Howard as a member of the faculty where she had the opportunity to teach and to meet many students who would later became famous writers and civil rights activists. Some of these students included: the poet Amiri Baraka; mayor of Atlanta, Andrew Young; civil rights activist and leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Stokely Carmichael; and finally the famous writer, Claude Brown.

At Howard, Morrison met and fell in love with an architect from Jamaica, Harold Morrison. They were married in 1958 and had their first son, Harold Ford, in 1961. Although her marriage did not go as hoped, Morrison and her husband stayed together for six years. In 1964, the family moved to Europe and Morrison became pregnant with her second child. However, by the time she returned from Europe, her marriage had ended. She attributes her marriage failure to the cultural differences between her and her husband.

When Morrison returned from Europe, she moved to Syracuse, New York, where she accepted a position as an associate editor with a textbook subsidiary of Random House. She worked hard during the days and came home to parent her two sons. Then, at night, she would work on her writing, and specifically, the book that would bring her world acclaim, The Bluest Eye. Morrison drew on many of her own life experiences and memories growing up in Lorain, Ohio to write this first book.

After twenty years of editing for Random House, Morrison left in 1984 to become a professor at the State University of New York in Albany. She worked there for five years, working on many literary pieces. But in the spring of 1989 she left and became the first African-American woman writer to hold a named chair at an Ivy League university. She was named the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of Humanities at Princeton University. She taught in the creative writing program, and participated in the African-American studies, American studies, and women's studies departments.

On October 7, 1993, Toni Morrison became the eighth woman and first black woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. When she learned of the honor, she said: "This is a palpable tremor of delight for me." Along with The Bluest Eye, some of her other highly acclaimed work includes: Beloved, Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Song of Solomon, and Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.

Bibliography

Century, Douglas. Toni Morrison. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1994.

Morrison, Toni. Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison. Ed. Nellie Y. McKay and Kathryn Earle. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1997.

Morrison, Toni. Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches. Ed. Nancy J. Peterson. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

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