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Toni Morrison


Alfred A. Knopf

1988 Fiction

"I'm interested in how men are educated, how women relate to each other, how we are able to love, how we balance political and personal forces, who survives in certain situations and who doesn't and, specifically, how these and other universal issues relate to African Americans. The search for love and identity runs through most everything I write."

In this comment from a 1992 interview, Toni Morrison gives one description of the complex range of issues she explores in her work. Morrison is widely recognized as one of the most influential American writers, and her novels are taught in literature, history, women's studies, and African American studies courses across the United States and around the world. She has received numerous honorary degrees, prizes, and awards, including the Nobel Prize in literature. Above all, Morrison is known for her rich, lyrical prose, which fuses the rhythms and imagery of African American speech and music with other literary influences to create a discourse of its own. In a 1977 interview, she said that it "seemed to [her] Black people's grace has been what they do with language." Morrison is unparalleled in her ability to capture that grace on the page.

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, a small, racially mixed steel town. Her grandparents were all originally from the South, and Morrison credits her family with giving her a rich foundation in the language and rhythms of African American culture. She has said she was born into a family of storytellers, and considers her father's folktales and her mother's singing as examples of the uniquely black language she absorbed as a child. After graduating with honors from Lorain public schools, Morrison received a bachelor's degree from Howard University in 1953. In 1955 she earned a master's degree in English from Cornell University, where she wrote her thesis on alienation in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. She taught at Texas Southern University for two years before accepting a teaching position at Howard.

While teaching at Howard, she married Jamaican architect Harold Morrison and gave birth to two sons. She later said it was the "powerlessness" she felt during her years as a wife and a mother of small children that led her to begin writing. In 1964 Morrison and her husband divorced, and she took a job in Syracuse, New York, as a textbook editor for Random House. In 1968 she moved to Random House's trade division in Manhattan, becoming their first black woman senior editor. There, she focused on black authors and edited books by Angela Davis, Toni Cade Bambara, Gayl Jones, and Muhammad Ali. Morrison also continued writing her own fiction at night, after her sons were asleep, and in 1970 published her first novel, The Bluest Eye.

The Bluest Eye tells the story of a nine-year-old black girl in a 1940s Ohio town who prays for blue eyes, thinking that will stop the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse she receives from her peers and the adults around her. Morrison became part of a new generation of black women writers, including Jones, Bambara, and Alice Walker, who were interested in telling black women's stories, and stories set wholly within the black community. The Bluest Eye received critical praise, and Morrison became sought-after for book reviews and articles on black literature and culture. Her next novel, Sula (1973), was nominated for the 1975 National Book Award in fiction. Set in another Ohio town, Sula is a novel about the classic forces of good and evil, placed within the context of a friendship between two black women and the community that surrounds them. Morrison truly rose to prominence as a novelist, however, with her third book, Song of Solomon (1977).

Like both of her earlier novels, Song of Solomon is set mainly in a Midwestern town, one of Morrison's innovations in African American fiction, which is traditionally set in either the urban North or the rural South. But unlike the others, Song of Solomon's main character is male, and the book has been described as incorporating more traditionally Western and male themes of flight, journey, and violence into its narrative of a particular black community and a particular black family. Song of Solomon was chosen a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, the first novel by a black author to become one since Native Son (1940), by Richard Wright. It also won Morrison the National Book Critics Circle Award and appointment to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Council of the Arts. Twenty years after its publication, the book was again featured as a national book club selection—this time, for the popular television feature Oprah's Book Club on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Morrison's next novel, Tar Baby (1981), received similar acclaim. It was the first of her novels to be set primarily outside of the United States (on a Caribbean island), and in the historical present, and to feature several white main characters. Tar Baby was also a bestseller. But Morrison's fifth novel, Beloved (1987), is her most celebrated work to date. Beloved is loosely based on a news clipping that Morrison read years earlier while editing a book on black history. The clipping told the true story of Margaret Garner, a slave who ran away with her four children, and when captured, tried to slit their throats-and with one child, succeeded-rather than see them returned to slavery. In its fullness, Beloved becomes a novel about slavery, about history, about community, about possession—and, ultimately, about love. Beloved was another national bestseller, was internationally reviewed, and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.

Morrison has said that Beloved is the first novel in a trilogy about love. The second novel in that trilogy, Jazz, was published in 1992. Set in New York during the Harlem Renaissance, the novel pieces together the story of a love triangle in a narrative form that imitates the rhythms of jazz music. The third novel, Paradise, was published in 1998. It portrays the lives of the townspeople of Ruby, Oklahoma, who believe their community is "the one all-black town worth the pain," and the women who inhabit the abandoned convent just outside town, whom the townspeople wish to exclude from their Eden. In 1993 Morrison received the Nobel Prize in literature for her six novels to that date. She was the first African American and the first black woman of any nationality ever to receive that prize.

Morrison has taught at several universities and in 1989 was named the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University. Her reputation as one of the most influential American writers rests not only on her fiction, but also on her work as a literary and cultural critic. Her essays and speeches have been included in numerous journals and books, and in 1992 she published her first volume of literary criticism, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. That same year she also edited Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power, a collection of essays on the Hill-Thomas hearings. In 1996 she coedited a second essay collection, Birth of a Nation'hood: Gaze, Script and Spectacle in the O. J. Simpson Case, about the former professional athlete who was tried for murder in a highly publicized case. Morrison has also written a play, Dreaming Emmett, first produced in New York in 1986.

Through all of these works Morrison has had a tremendous impact on the American and the African American literary landscapes. Her novels are widely accessible to readers and internationally praised for the quality of their prose, yet they remain dedicated to exploring nuances of African American culture and language. In Black Women Writers, a 1984 book by poet Mari Evans, Morrison states that to her the best art "is unquestionably political and irrevocably beautiful at the same time," a standard many readers believe she has met in all of her work.

Contributed By: Lisa Clayton Robinson.

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Blog Posts about Toni Morrison

Honoring Toni Morrison With A "Gesture Of Love" On Her Birthday

A mere dozen miles from the site where Toni Morrison was born Chloe Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, a day-long gathering will mark what would have been the novelist's 89th birthday. "In Celebration of Toni Morrison: A Gesture of Love and Reflection" will be live-streamed from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from the Oberlin College campus. Organizer Johnny Coleman, professor of Studio Art and Africana studies, began working on the event the day after Morrison died in August. “This warrior artist had such a giant global impact and such an individual impact," he... Read More →

Celebrating Zora Neale Hurston With The Release Of "The Zora Canon"

Anisfield-Wolf recipient Zora Neale Hurston would have turned 129 years old January 7. To celebrate her birthday, the editors of ZORA, an online magazine eponymously named after the Harlem Renaissance writer and pioneering anthropologist, compiled the ZORA Canon, its definitive list of the best books written by African American women. Novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge (“We Love You, Charlie Freeman") writes that the editors decided to take up the task when they realized no one seemed to have published a comprehensive list of black women authors, a... Read More →

New Toni Morrison Documentary, "The Foreigner's Home," Explores The Meaning Of Belonging

Toni Morrison poses in front of the Louvre in Paris, November 2006. Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images At 87, Toni Morrison is a direct woman. The Nobel laureate in literature has long contemplated her legacy, and the larger meaning of art, society and belonging. A moving piece of evidence for this unfurls in The Foreigner’s Home, a feature-length film, making its regional debut at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 35 miles east of Morrison’s childhood town of Lorain, Ohio. The film screens at 2 p.m. Saturday. The documentary captures the... Read More →

New "Bench By The Road" Marks Underground Railroad History In Cleveland's University Circle

Thinking about gaps in our communal memory has long occupied Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. In a 1989 interview, she said:“There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There's no 300-foot tower, there's no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence... Read More →

EVENT: "Cleveland In Print" Examines Northeast Ohio Through Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes And Harvey Pekar

  Come learn more about the Cleveland that helped shape Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Harvey Pekar. Teaching Cleveland has teamed up with Literary Cleveland and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards to present "Cleveland in Print: The History and Literature of Northeast Ohio" on Thursday, January 28. The story of Cleveland in the 20th Century is one of immigrants and migrants, racial tensions, and economic stratification. Join us as we examine three works by these three Northeast Ohio writers and explore the interplay between person,... Read More →

Toni Morrison Returns With "God Help The Child," Remains Wickedly Entertaining

At 84, Toni Morrison is full of reflection on her successes and incidents where she might request a do-over.    "It's not profound regret," she told NPR's Terry Gross. "It's just a wiping up of tiny little messes that you didn't recognize as mess when they were going on." Morrison's press tour for her eleventh novel, God Help the Child, has been full of little fascinating admissions like this. (My favorite parts of the recent lengthy New York Times profile are the quick revelations that Morrison has never once worn jeans and that she... Read More →

Rita Dove's Love Letter To Toni Morrison At NBCC: "No Words Can Fully Express What You've Meant To Me"

Photo credit: Fred Viebahn Poet Rita Dove introduced Toni Morrison—the only living American Nobel recipient in literature—with joy and grace and poetry at the New School in Manhattan, where Morrison received the National Book Critics Circle's Ivan Sandrof award—its lifetime achievement prize. The NBCC stressed that Morrison the editor, the essayist, the critic, the mentor and professor had made enormous contributions to American letters, in addition to her luminous books. But it was the eloquent Dove, a Pulitzer winner, a former U.S.... Read More →

When Maya Met Toni: The 40-Year-Friendship Between Two Literary Giants

 Anisfield-Wolf winner Toni Morrison found herself on stage at the Hay Festival in Wales May 28, the same day her friend Maya Angelou died in North Carolina at the age of 86. The obvious question—"Do you have any words to say about her life and legacy?"—was coming.    "She launched African-American women writing in the United States," Morrison said, choosing her words carefully. "She was generous to a fault. She had 19 talents...used 10. She was a real original. There's no duplicate." The friendship between Morrison and Angelou... Read More →

Debating The Best Book Lists: Does Amazon's "100 Books To Read In A Lifetime" Get It Right?

Wither the best book list? Inherently inane and crazy-making, these are also undeniably good conversation starters. Amazon has posted the latest iteration: its best “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.” It includes two Anisfield-Wolf prize novels: Junot Diaz' “The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved," as well as James McBride’s memoir “The Color of Water.” Also on the list is the immortal “Invisible Man” from Ralph Ellison, which won an Anisfield-Wolf Landmark Achievement, and books by... Read More →

Toni Morrison Speaks To Cadets At West Point After "Home" Finds Place In Their English Curriculum

Toni Morrison doesn't hold her tongue on anything she deems important for the masses to know. At 82, she has earned that right.  In speaking with freshman cadets at the United States Military Academy, Morrison expressed her views on the war in Iraq and shared her inspiration for her latest book, "Home." The novel, about a Korean war veteran named Frank Money, who is struggling with PTSD and the segregated south, is part of the English curriculum at West Point. Lt. Col. Scott Chancellor, director of the freshman English program, selected the... Read More →

Toni Morrison Shares What Mistakes She Made With "The Bluest Eye"

We were thrilled to receive an invitation to participate in Toni Morrison's first live digital book signing, courtesy of Google Play. We weren't sure what to expect from the format—how would the digital signing of books work? How long would she speak? Would technical difficulties get in the way?  We were pleasantly surprised at how well the event went. Toni Morrison broadcast live from Google's New York offices and the event was streamed live over several websites. Readers were encouraged to submit questions beforehand and a lucky few were... Read More →

Are There Any Books You Wouldn't Want Your Children To Read?

Toni Morrison's Pulitzer-prize winning novel, Beloved, took home the Anisfield-Wolf award for fiction in 1988. In it, a slave, unwilling to see her children grow up and live the same fate as their mother, killed one of her children rather than see them in bondage. Eighteen years later, the mother is visited by a young woman who she believes is the slain infant, returned.  However lauded the work may be, not everyone is a fan. Most recently, a Fairfax County parent has petitioned to ban the book based on the book's content, which she says... Read More →

Happy Birthday, Toni Morrison!

In honor of Ms. Morrison's 82nd birthday, we're looking back at our archives for some of our favorite moments from the esteemed author over the past few years. Take a walk down memory lane with us:  "Beloved" is named one of the "88 Books That Shaped America" by the Library of Congress:  Toni Morrison won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her post-Civil War novel based on the true story of an escaped slave and the tragic consequences when a posse comes to reclaim her. The author won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, and in... Read More →

Are There Books On Your Holiday List? Here's Three Books We Think You Should Include

If you haven't read it already, Junot Diaz' This is How You Lose Her is a terrific collection of short stories that reaffirmed NY Times book critic Michiko Kakutani belief that Diaz has "one of the most distinctive and magnetic voices in contemporary fiction."                      Multiple book critics have deemed Louise Erdrich's new novel the best she's written and that's saying a lot as her other 13 novels have been widely praised for her extraordinary storytelling skills.... Read More →

In A Disaster, Do People Need Books As Much As They Need Other Supplies?

Several Nobel laureates, Libraries Without Borders and dozens of authors believe so. They are petitioning for books to be considered crucial in disaster relief. Among those who have signed the petition are Anisfield-Wolf winners Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz, Joyce Carol Oates and Edwidge Danticat. Patrick Weil, chairman of Libraries Without Borders, says they are urging the UN to consider "nourishment of the mind" a fundamental resource in disaster relief. This first came about after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, when the organization was... Read More →

Toni Morrison To Speak At Harvard Divinity School

 On December 6, Toni Morrison will deliver the Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality at 5 pm in Sanders Theatre on the Harvard campus. Throughout the fall semester, Harvard Divinity School has hosted a working group on the religious dimensions of Morrison's writings. Watch the video here.   If you're interested in attending, tickets may be requested from the Harvard Box Office. Limit of 2 tickets per person. Tickets are available by phone and internet for a fee, or in person at the Holyoke Center Box Office. Call 617.496.2222 or reserve online... Read More →

School Board Member Objects To Textbook Review Process, Cites "Song Of Solomon" As Example Of Inappropriate Book

More than 35 years after being published, Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon" is behind a bit of controversy in the Frederick, Maryland school district.  From the Frederick News Post:  School board member April Miller would not vote to make "Song of Solomon" available in Frederick County high schools. The novel by Toni Morrison, which details the life of an African-American male living in Michigan from the 1930s through 1960s, includes graphic sexual and violent content. "It's definitely not something I want my 14-year-old reading," she... Read More →

Incredible Artwork Of The One And Only Toni Morrison

We found this piece of art by local artist John Sokol fascinating. In it, he uses words to fill in the visage of Ms. Toni Morrison (perhaps words from her own works?). Visit the link to see more of his "word portraits," including those of James Joyce, Dante, and more. Read More →

We Would Pay Top Dollar Just To Hear Toni Morrison Speak

Anytime - and we do mean anytime – there is a new Toni Morrison interview or book or appearance, we pay attention. Not just because she is a 1988 Anisfield-Wolf winner, but because she is a literary treasure. She is 81 now, having spent roughly half her life as an author of note and with is comes the freedom and space to say exactly how she feels about any given topic.  She recently sat with a writer from the Daily Telegraph for an in-depth interview in advance of her latest work, a play, which opened in London this month. In it, she... Read More →

Huffington Post Reveals 50 Books Every African American Should Read - How Many AW Winners Made The List?

Gwendolyn Brooks Huffington Post's Black Voices rounded up 50 books the editors think every African American should read (they added on Twitter that of course the list has value to everyone, but these books focus primarily on the black experience in America). We were thrilled to see how many Anisfield-Wolf winners were on the list, proving to us once again that our winners stand out in the crowded literary field.  Gwendolyn Brooks "Annie Allen" (1949) Edwidge Danticat "Breath, Eyes, Memory" (1999) Chimamanda Adichie "Half Of A Yellow Sun"... Read More →

88 Books That Shaped America (According To The Library Of Congress)

No, it's not a "best books of all-time" list, but the list assembled by the Library of Congress, to celebrate the works that most define our nation's history, is pretty close. There's some stand-outs, like Thomas Paine's Common Sense and Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat. But the list particularly caught our eye because there are several Anisfield-Wolf winners on the list—and we're thrilled. Check out who made the cut. Descriptions are pulled from the Library of Congress website:  Langston Hughes, "The Weary Blues" (1925) Langston Hughes was... Read More →

Toni Morrison Discusses "Home" (VIDEO) + Receives Presidential Medal Of Freedom

May has been an incredible month for Ms. Morrison. She released her latest novel, Home, to rave reviews and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday, May 29. In the clip above, she discusses her novel and her intention to help us remember what the 50s were really like.  We were also treated to this incredible photo of President Obama and Ms. Morrison sharing a private moment after the awards ceremony. Wonder what they were talking about?  During the ceremony, President Obama remarked that this year's honorees were... Read More →

VIDEO: Toni Morrison Discusses "Black Is Beautiful"

We've been talking about Toni Morrison a lot lately, but we think it's difficult to provide too much information on one of our greatest living writers. Bookriot named May 8 "Toni Morrison Day," in honor of the release of her newest book, but we're going to extend it one day and share one more video of the great Ms. Morrison. In it, she discusses the early part of her career and what she thought of the "Black is Beautiful" movement.  Read More →

Does Toni Morrison's Latest Stack Up Against Her Previous Works?

It's not very likely to hear us expressing doubt about Ms. Toni Morrison's literary abilities. If anything, our appreciation for her craft only grows larger with the release of each new work. Her latest novel, Home, explores the homecoming of Frank Money, a Korean War vet who signed up for the service to get away from his hometown, only to return weary and disturbed and not sure of how welcome he will be. The reviews are in—is this still the Toni Morrison we all know and love?   New York Daily News:  Toni Morrison’s new novel... Read More →

Toni Morrison On Herself: "The Only Thing I Do For Me Is Writing"

In anticipation for Toni Morrison's latest novel, Home, following the story of a Korean War veteran and his return to America in the 1950s, New York magazine wrote one of the best pieces on Toni Morrison that we've ever read. In it, writer Boris Kachka examine her feelings on her pen name (Surprise! She hates it), whether she believes her writing is as good as other people say it is (she does) and much, much more. We've lifted some of the best excerpts and encourage you to read the full piece. It's extraordinary:  On whether she deserves to... Read More →

New Books From Junot Diaz, Toni Morrison, and Zadie Smith

Junot Díaz Junot Diaz's short story collection This Is How You Lose Her will be published in September. It's Diaz's first book since his 2007 debut novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which, in addition to the 2008 Anisfield-Wolf award for fiction, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Critics Circle Award. {New York Times} It hasn't been officially confirmed but the rumor mill is buzzing that Zadie Smith's latest book will be released in September. No doubt fans of White Teeth and On Beauty are waiting anxiously. {Sarah... Read More →

Friday Lit Review: Things You Might Have Missed When You Were Busy Living Life

Each Friday we'll be bringing you news about your favorite authors, literature and books in general. Check out the first installment and tell us what you think in the comments:  Isabel Wilkerson (2011 winner) was on PBS Newshour to discuss the groundbreaking of the Smithsonian's African-American History Museum. See her part at the 4:00 minute mark.    Our friends over at Book Riot have declared May 8 "Toni Morrison Day" based off the release date of Ms. Morrison's (1998 winner) newest book, Home. One of their writers will be... Read More →

Spend "An Evening With Toni Morrison" At Oberlin College March 14

Oberlin College will host 1988 Anisfield-Wolf award winner Toni Morrison in an intimate event on Wednesday, March 14 at 7:30. The Nobel-prize winning author will read from her upcoming novel, Home, as well as participate in a question-and-answer session. The public can request tickets by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope along with your request to: Central Ticket ServiceHall Auditorium67 N. Main St.Oberlin, OH 44074   If you have the opportunity to go, we highly recommend you take the time to see Ms. Morrison in person. In the... Read More →

6 Quotes From Your Favorite Authors

Ernest J. Gaines ‎Because it is more appealing to hear from the authors themselves, we've rounded up some of the best quotes we've heard this year (even if they're a bit older) from some of our distinguished Anisfield-Wolf Award winners. Enjoy!  "I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be." — Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying ‎"At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough." — Toni Morrison ‎"Art, after... Read More →

Chairing the Jury

Chairing the jury for the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is one of the single pleasures of my life. The thought that a poet – a white, female poet – had the foresight to endow a prize to honor excellence and diversity, at the height of the Great Depression, is something of a miracle, isn't it? And in a few days, we will honor her commitment to racial equality and justice by recognizing this year's winners of her prize, the 76th such occasion. It is humbling to thumb through the names of previous winners, including Langston Hughes and Zora Neale... Read More →

Cuyahoga County Public Library Celebrates Anisfield-Wolf

The Anisfield-Wolf book prize 75th anniversary celebration is in full swing at Cuyahoga County Public Library. Since January, Library staff members have facilitated lively discussions of books by Anisfield-Wolf book prize-winning authors in each of the Library’s 28 branches. Special Anisfield-Wolf book discussion series held in the Library’s Bay Village (502 Cahoon Road / 440.871.6392), Beachwood (25501 Shaker Boulevard / 216.831.6868) and Parma Heights (6206 Pearl Road / 440.884.2313) branches have been extremely popular. Each month, book... Read More →
  • Toni Morrison

    Toni Morrison


    Other Works

    • The Bluest Eye (1970)
    • Sula (1974)
    • Song of Solomon (1977)
    • Tar Baby (1981)
    • A Mercy (2008)

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