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God Help The Child and Toni Morrison: Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

Image of Toni Morrison, wearing a loose fitting orange, blue, and green shirt. She is speaking into a microphone, with one hand outstretched.

Biography

Toni Morrison is an essayist, a playwright, a writer and a literary critic.  She is one of most respected and lauded writers in America today.  Morrison was the first female African American recipient of the Nobel Prize, which she won in 1993.  Her expressively narrated novels bear witness to the experiences of Black individuals in America.  She has been called "a literary artist of the first rank," by the Nobel Committee.

Toni Morrison was born on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio to George and Ramah Wofford.  Both her parents grew up in the South; her mother was from Greenville, Alabama and her father was from Georgia.  When her father was 15, he witnessed the lynching of two black businessmen who lived near him.  Soon after, George moved to Lorain, Ohio which was more racially integrated.  Toni is the second of four children.  Growing up, her parents told her ghost stories and traditional African American folktales, and Toni would spend a great deal of time in the library reading, which instilled an appreciation of language and heritage within her.

She begun attending the historically black college, Howard University in 1949, studying English.  She encountered segregation for the first time there in Washington D.C.  She graduated in 1953 with a B.A. in English.  Two years later, in 1955, she received her Masters in Arts from Cornell University with a thesis on the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf.  Toni went on to teach English at Texas Southern University for two years and Howard University for seven.  She met the Jamaican architect Harold Morrison while teaching at Howard University and the two were married in 1958 and had two children, Slade and Harold Ford.  In 1964, the couple divorced.

She went on to become a textbook editor at L.W. Singer division of Random House Books and was transferred two years later to Random House in New York City where she became the senior editor in the fiction department.

Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, developed from a short story she wrote in an informal writing group at Howard.  The novel was published in 1970 and initially struggled.  As she continued to publish, the acclaim for her writing grew.  Her 1987 novel, Beloved, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year.  The novel draws from the real-life story of Margaret Garner, who decided to kill her children rather than see them become slaves.

 

Basic Facts

Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford

Birth Date: February 18, 1931

Birth Place: Lorain, Ohio

Education: Lorain High School, Howard University, Cornell University

Occupation: Author, Editor, Literary Critic, Playwright, Professor

Former and Current Places of Work:  Texas Southern University, Howard University, L.W. Singer, Random House, and Princeton University.

Notable Awards: Pen/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction (2016), Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012), Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for Fiction (2011), National Humanities Award (2000), Jefferson Lecture (1996), Nobel Prize in Literature (1993), Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for Beloved (1988), American Book Award for Beloved (1988), and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon (1977). 

Novels: The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, Paradise, Love, A Mercy, Home, and God Help the Child

Plays: Dreaming Emmett (1986) and Desdemona (2001)