On August 5th, 2019, the world lost a true literary icon. Toni Morrison, Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, passed away at the age of 88. She’d experienced a great deal in her life, and she gave the world so much in return. After having one of the most successful and celebrated careers in literature imaginable, it’s understandable why Ms. Morrison was so revered. Not only was she a talented novelist, she was also an African-American woman who was able to break through racial boundaries and become a master in her subject.
In honor of her legacy, I figured I would provide a brief history of her life and career.
An Ohio native, Toni Morrison was actually born with the name Chloe Anthony Wofford. Morrison credits her parents George, a welder, and Ramah, a domestic worker, as the reason for her interest in the arts. She was lucky enough to make it to her teens before she became aware of racial segregation within the United States. She would later go on to push the status quo and break racial boundaries in her work.
After showing an interest in the arts, particularly literature, Morrison did everything that she could to learn more about her passion. She read constantly (particularly European literature), took Latin classes and, once she moved on to college, majored in literature at Howard University. Upon her graduation from Howard, Morrison was accepted into the prestigious Cornell University, where she studied other literary masters, such as Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. She graduated with her master’s degree in 1955.
In 1957, she met Harold Morrison, the young architect that she would marry and have two children with, and eventually separate from in 1963.
During the beginning of her career, Morrison found work as a teacher and later as an editor at various publications. Most notably, she became the first African-American female fiction editor at Random House in 1967.
Shortly after this, Morrison decided to focus on the creative side of writing, and wrote her first novel, The Bluest Eye which dealt with the harsh realities of racism in the United States. In fact, many of Morrison’s novels continued to explore the African-American experience in the US. Other novels written by Morrison include Sula, Song of Solomon and Paradise, with Song of Solomon receiving critical praise and its place in the annals of literary works.
It was her novel, Beloved, that transformed Morrison’s career from exceptional to legendary. Published in 1987, Beloved follows the story of an African-American woman faced with a terrible choice, only to have her decision haunt her in supernatural ways. Among its several awards and accolades, the novel’s highest honor was certainly the Pulitzer Prize bestowed upon it in 1988.
Even after all of her published works, teaching experience, education and awards, Morrison wasn’t content with stopping there. She was destined for greatness. And so, after teaching at Princeton for four years, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, becoming the first African-American woman to earn the honor, breaking yet another racial boundary.
Morrison continued to teach at Princeton for quite some time, as well as write additional novels, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as children’s books and even a libretto.
She will forever be remembered for her controversial and stunning works of literature that will be studied for ages to come.
We hope that our readers will take a moment and look into some of her work. You never know, you might just be inspired to write your own novel, or simply change your perspective on society. Regardless, Morrison is well worth your time.
“The function of freedom is to free someone else.” – Toni Morrison.