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Black History Month
Toni Morrison, the first African-American woman to win the
in Literature, is a distinguished author, editor, and professor. Her most notable works include
The Bluest Eye
Song of Solomon
(1987). Today she continues to write while teaching English at Princeton University.
Morrison was born on February 18, 1931 as Chloe Anthony Wofford in Loraine, Ohio. Her father, George Wofford, was a proud and hard-working shipyard welder who carried himself in a dignified manner and taught his children the same. Her mother, Ramah Willis Wofford, attended church often and raised her children to take pride in their African-American heritage. Both of Wofford's parents had escaped life in the South and moved north to Ohio.
Wofford attended an integrated, racially diverse school in Loraine populated by many immigrant European and Mexican students. Wofford encountered very few forms of racial discrimination until her teenage years. She loved to read and enjoyed the work of writers like Leo Tolstoy, Gustave Flaubert, and Jane Austen. She graduated from high school with honors in 1949.
During her college years, Wofford had the opportunity to examine the lives of Southern African-Americans. She attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. with a major in English and a minor in classics. She joined a repertory company and took several trips to the South with the group. Her visits have heavily influenced her literary works, which focus primarily on the African-American experience in the South. Wofford graduated from Howard in 1953 and went on to obtain her master's degree from Cornell University in 1955. She then obtained a position at Texas Southern University, where she realized the importance of the study of black culture as an academic discipline rather than "personal" family history. She later returned to the faculty of Howard University, where she met several prominent Civil Rights activists and authors who have influenced her heavily.
After marrying a Jamaican architect named Harold Morrison and giving birth to her first son in 1961, Morrison joined a small writer's group which she attended to relieve the stress of an unhappy marriage. While a member of this group, Morrison had unknowingly planted the seed for her first novel,
The Bluest Eye
. Having cast the short story aside, she returned to polish and publish the story in 1970 after becoming senior editor at
publishing company in New York. She continued to write while teaching at the State University of New York at Purchase and working at Random House, publishing
in 1973, which became a popular success.
Toni Morrison's work is most remarkable for its powerful, emotional, and effective depiction of the cultural experiences of African-Americans. She places a strong emphasis on the roles of black women in a society that has been dominated historically by men. She portrays such struggles in her works.
The Bluest Eye
, a story inspired by a girl Morrison knew from childhood, followed the life of a young black girl who prayed for blue eyes. Though the novel did not achieve great success, her second novel,
, which focused on a friendship between two adult black women, was nominated for the 1975
National Book Award
When Morrison began writing her third novel, she chose to write about powerful African-American males. In 1977 she published
Song of Solomon
National Book Critic's Circle Award
American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
Award. Her fourth novel,
, in which Morrison depicts the interaction between black and white characters for the first time, was published in 1981, a few years after her appointment by President Jimmy Carter to the
National Council on the Arts
. After leaving Random House in 1983, Morrison was named the Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at the State University of New York at Albany. In Albany, she began writing her first play,
, based on the true story of the 1955 murder of a young African-American teenager by racist whites after being accused of whitsling at a white woman. The play debuted in 1986 at the Marketplace Theater in Albany.
Morrison published perhaps her most famous and notable novel in 1987. Morrison had been influenced by a story about a slave named Margaret Garner, who had escaped slavery with her children and fled to Ohio. When the danger of being recaptured had arisen, Garner tried to kill her children rather than let them return to suffer in a life of slavery. Inspired by this story, Morrison wrote
, which became a best-seller and in 1988 won the
for fiction. Beloved was also released as a film in 1998, directed by Jonathan Demme and produced by Oprah Winfrey's
Morrison's years of writing, editing, and teaching have rendered her a prominent and distinguished African-American scholar. She has taught and lectured at several American universities, including Texas Southern Univeristy, Howard University, the State University of New York at Purchase and Albany, and Yale University. She now teaches at Princeton University. In 1987, Morrison was named the Robert F. Goheen Professor of Humanities at Princeton University. She became the first African-American female writer to hold a named chair at an Ivy League Institution. After publishing her fifth novel 1992,
, Morrison recieved the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, becoming the eighth American woman and the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize. Toni Morrison has continued to write and teach since this accomplishment, publishing
in 2003 and her latest novel,
, in 2008, which has been named by the New York Times as one of the "10 Best Books of 2008." Morrison has broken ground for African-American history and culture through her literature, which examines the African-American experience with an invigorating and emotional power that has influenced the way that Americans view African-American culture and identity.
Bois, Danuta, "Distinguished Women of Past and Present", Distinguished Women.com, 1996. <
Century, Douglas, "Toni Morrison", Chelsea House Publishers, 1994
Liukkonen, Petri, "Toni Morrison--Originally Chloe Anthony Wofford", Pegasos, 2008
Jokinen, Anniina, "Toni Morrison: Beloved", Luminarium: Anthology of American Literature, 30 July 2006
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