Toni Morrison: All About Her Life


Barakat Jooda, Reporter

“I’m a believer in the power of knowledge and the ferocity of beauty, so from my point of view, your life is already artful – waiting, just waiting for you to make it art.” – Toni Morrison, Graduation address at Princeton University, 2005.

Early Life
Toni Morrison was born on February 18, 1931 at Lorain, Ohio. She was born as Chloe Anthony Wofford, but she changed her first name in college to Toni. Most people had difficulty pronouncing Chloe. She grew up in the American Midwest in a family that had so much love and appreciation for black culture. Storytelling, songs, and folktales all formed her childhood. Furthermore, she attended Howard University and got her Associates degree in 1953. She also attended Cornell University and got her Masters degree in 1955. She taught at Texas Southern University from 1955 to 1957. Afterwards, she taught at Howard University from 1957 to 1964 and worked as a fiction editor at Random House, where she was one of the first black editors from 1963 to 1983. In 1984, she began to work as the Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities at the State University of New York at Albany. She left in 1989 to join the Robert.F. Goheen Chair in the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University, which she did until 2006.

As a child, she developed a love for literature and read frequently. She had many favorite authors including Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. Her works revolved around African-Americans, both their history and their situation in our own time. Also, her works often depict difficult circumstances and the dark side of humanity. The way Morrison reveals the stories of individual characters shows us how much she wants the readers to understand the characters and relate to them, which causes the reader to feel many emotions at the same time.

Even though she wrote a lot of books in her lifetime, here are some of her notable works. Morrison’s first book is The Bluest Eye which was published in 1970. It was a novel of initiation, concerning a victimized adolescent black girl who is obsessed by white standards of beauty and longs to have blue eyes. In 1973, her second novel, Sula, was published. It goes deep into the dynamics of friendship and the expectations for conformity within the community. Also, Song of Solomon, published in 1977, is told by a male narrator in search of his identity. Its publication brought Morrison to national attention. In 1987, she published Beloved, which won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Is based on the true story of a runaway slave, who at the point of recapture, kills her infant daughter in order to spare her a life of slavery. A film version of the novel was released in 1998 and starred Oprah Winfrey. In addition, Morrison wrote the libretto for Margaret Garner in 2005, an opera about the same story that inspired Beloved. In 1992, she released Jazz, a story of violence and passion set in New York City’s Harlem during the 1920s. In, God Help the Child, published in 2015, she wrote about child abuse and neglect through the tale of Bride, a black girl with dark skin who is born to light-skinned parents. Her books always have a story that teach the unknown and infamous parts of humans and the way we live in the world. Due to this, she was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Morrison became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize.

Morrison was a very diligent woman when she was alive. She won a lot of awards in her lifetime. Most of them were for her great books and some were given to her because of the way she used her position as a writer to empower young people and bring awareness to several situations going on in our society. She really cared about people, and she was all for making the society a better place. In the year 2000, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal. She was given the Pell Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts in 2001. As well, she was given the Enoch Pratt Free Library Lifetime Literary Achievement Award in 2002. In 2004, Morrison was awarded the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work- Fiction for her book, Love. She was given the Coretta Scott King Award for her work, Remember: The Journey to School Integration. She was also recognized by former president, Barack Obama. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in May, 2012. In 2013, Morrison won the New York City Literary Honors for Fiction. She was announced as the 2016 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University in April, 2015. Also, in 2018, Oprah Winfrey presented her with The Center for Fiction’s “Lifetime of Excellence in Fiction” honor.

Toni Morrison died at Montefiore Medical center in the Bronx, New York City, on August 5, 2019. She died from complications of pneumonia. She was 88 years old when she died. The documentary, “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019. She lived a great life and stood up for what she believed in every single time. She will forever a legend in the writing world, and she will forever be remembered.