Origins, everyone has them. How the time, the place and the circumstances of entry into this world will affect individuals as they mature and experience life is unpredictable. Arriving on February 18, 1931 into an America of complex social, economic and racial challenges, Chloe Ardelia Wofford, who would become known as Toni Morrison, was a product of working class parents who moved from the Deep South to Lorain, Ohio in search of greater opportunities. The Great Depression and the infamous Scottsboro Boys case illuminated America’s social and racial injustice. Despite the challenges, Toni and her family were persistent, focused and positive. They believed that change was possible and Toni was able to develop a powerful tool to promote that change – namely, writing.
Toni Morrison was an avid reader. In high school, she sharpened her linguistic skills as a debater, yearbook committee member and secretary to the school’s librarian. A member of the Howard University Players, Toni’s commitment to racial justice deepened. After earning her degree in English, Toni earned her master’s degree from Cornell University in 1955. After teaching briefly at Texas Southern University, she taught at her alma mater, Howard University, for seven years where she taught such activists as Stokely Carmichael.
In New York, the future world-renowned writer was an editor for Random House and assisted many writers, including African American writers. A single mother to two sons, Ford and Slade, after her marriage to Harold Morrison ended, Toni Morrison continued her work as an editor. With an incisive mastery of language and superb capacity to explore the trials and triumphs of the life and culture of African American people, she began her writing career. At age 39, Toni Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eye. Sula came three years later and became a National Book Award nominee. Song of Solomon earned the National Book Critics Circle Award. A creator of complex yet compelling characters, Toni Morrison revealed an authenticity that became her trademark as evidenced in Beloved, a New York Times Best Seller for over two dozen weeks. Tar Baby, Jazz,Paradise, Home, A Mercy and God Help the Child are among her many contributions to the canon of African American literature. She also wrote several children’s books with her son, Slade, including Little Cloud and Lady Wind and the Who’s Got Game? series. Quite notably, Ms. Morrison taught at Princeton while managing a highly productive writing agenda.
A listing of Toni Morrison’s well-deserved awards for her writing and her humanity fills pages. Standing in salient relief against all others, however, was her becoming the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the first to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Former President Barack Obama awarded her the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Toni Morrison was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2020.