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Toni Morrison Biography

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Beloved Author/Context

Toni Morrison (Chloe Anthony Wofford) was born in Loraine, Ohio, on Feb. 13, 1931. Descended from pre-Civil War slaves, storytelling and reading were important parts of her childhood, and the supernatural was considered part of everyday life. Morrison graduated from Lorain High School in 1949, and went to Howard University in Washington, D.C. She graduated from Howard in 1953 with a B.A. in English Literature, and a minor in Classics. From there, she went on to Cornell University to earn an M.A. in English in 1955. She taught English at the university level for several years before becoming an editor at Random House in 1967.

Her promising first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. Since The Bluest Eye, Morrison has written six novels: Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise, as well as a book of criticism entitled, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Morrison also edited Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power.

The Abridged Encyclopedia of World Biography says, "Beloved, Morrison's fifth novel, has been called her most technically sophisticated work to date. Using flashbacks, fragmented narration and shifting viewpoints, Morrison explored the story of events that have led to the protagonist Sethe's crime." Published in 1987, the novel made The New York Times Best Seller List in its first week, and by the third week, the novel was Number 3. Surprisingly, Beloved was ignored for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics' Award the year it was published. Appalled at the dismissal of the novel, forty-eight prominent African American writers and critics signed a tribute to Morrison's achievement that was published in the New York Times in January 1988. Since then, Morrison has received numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Beloved, the National Book Awards NBF Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In Black Women Writers: A Critical Evaluation, Morrison wrote that fiction "should be beautiful, and powerful, but it should also work. It should have something in it that enlightens; something in it that suggests what the conflicts are. But it need not solve those problems because it is not a case study, it is not a recipe."

An article in Major Twentieth-Century Writers claims that "[t]hrough works such as The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, Morrison has earned a reputation as a gifted storyteller whose troubled characters seek to find themselves and their cultural riches in a society that warps or impedes such essential growth."

Charles Larson's article about Beloved in the Chicago Tribune states that "[i]n her darkest and most probing novel, Toni Morrison has demonstrated once again the stunning powers that place her in the first ranks of our living novelists."

Bibliography

Evans, Mari, editor. Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Doubleday, 1984.

Larson, Charles. Chicago Tribune. 27 October 1987.

"Morrison, Toni." Abridged Encyclopedia of World Biography. 1999 ed.

"Morrison, Toni." Major Twentieth-Century Writers: A Selection of Sketches from Contemporary Authors. 1991 ed.

Kramer, Barbara. Toni Morrison: Nobel Prize-Winning Author. African-American Biography Series. Springfield, New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1996.

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