Toni Morrison-bio - Colorado Mesa University

Toni Morrison
A biography
Whether I shall turn out to be the hero
of my own life . . .
B. Feb. 18, 1931, Lorain, Ohio
Named Chloe Anthony Wofford
Father – shipyard welder from Georgia
Mother – Alabama sharecropper’s
Both moved north to escape Southern Jim
Crow discrimination
Ohio – a microcosm of the Nation – the
southern half a haven for KKK, the
northern half an underground railroad
pipeline. (Morrison’s family lived about as
north in Ohio as you can get.)
Her father – the racist
Morrison identifies her father as a racist –
a person who believes that his race is
superior to another race. Morrison writes
that her father “really felt that all black
people were better than all white people
because their position was a moral one.”
Her father often told his children that
there could never be any harmony
between the races because white people
were simply too damned dumb to
overcome the bigotry they were taught as
Her mother – the passive aggressive
Ramah Willis Wofford believed that
education could change people’s
racist attitudes, but she didn’t hold
her breath waiting for it to happen.
She didn’t fight the system, she just
kind of ignored it – if she went to a
movie theatre that had a whites
only section, she sat in it.
Morrison claims that class was the divider
in Lorain, rather than race. Her neighbors
were Greeks and Italians – people her
father called the “detritus of Europe.”
Morrison went “to school with white
children, they were my friends. There was
no awe, no fear. Only later, when things
got . . . sexual . . . did I see how clear the
lines really were. But when I was in first
grade nobody thought I was inferior. I
was the only black in the class and the
only child who could read!”
Chloe the Reader
She read – Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Austen
and the classics of European Literature
Her grandmother recorded her dreams
and then decoded the symbols in order to
discover what numbers to bet.
Her parents told them stories. “She
absorbed the folktales, myths, and songs
that had been important parts of
Southern black culture for centuries from
these stories.”
Chloe the Student
She was an excellent student in high school.
She attended Howard University, in Washington
D.C. Howard is one of the nation’s most
prestigious black colleges.
Lots of famous African American people have
graduated from Howard – Alain Locke, Sterling A
Brown, Thurgood Marshall, Stokley Carmichael,
about half of America’s black doctors, engineers
and architects are Howard graduates.
Her degree is in English with a minor in Classics.
She didn’t study African American or African
literature, history and culture. She read “The
Great Books.”
She earned an MA in English Literature from
Cornell. Her thesis was on Faulkner and Woolf.
Name Changes
She changed her first name from Chloe to
Toni when she moved to Howard
She married a Jamaican architect, Harold
Morrison, in 1958, when she returned to
Howard to teach, after teaching for two
years at Texas Southern University.
She had one son in 1961 – Harold Ford –
and another in 1964 – Slade Kevin.
In 1965, she divorced her husband and
set out on her own.
Morrison the Editor
W/ Random House in Syracuse
Then in New York.
She brought several black writers to the Random
House publication list – Angela Davis, Toni Cade
Bambara and Gayl Jones.
Random House published The Black Book, which was
largely inspired by Morrison.
She was one of the most important editors in terms of
generating black publications and foregrounding black
She was responsible for publishing “The Myth of
Lesbianism” one of the first studies of the subject, and
one of the first anthologies of Third World writing. She
worked on the publication of a ground breaking
collection of Contemporary African Literature.
She become the prime mover behind texts to support
Black Studies curriculums in the academy.
She brought out Muhamad Ali’s autobiography.
Books Morrison has Edited
The Black Book (anthology), Random House (New York, NY),
Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill,
Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality,
Pantheon (New York, NY), 1992.
To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton,
Writers and Readers (New York, NY), 1995.
(Contributor) Arguing Immigration: The Debate over the
Changing Face of America, edited by Nicolaus Mills, Simon &
Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.
Toni Cade Bambara, Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions:
Fiction, Essays, and Conversations, Pantheon (New York, NY),
(Editor with Claudia Brodsky Lacour) Birth of a Nation'Hood:
Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case,
Pantheon (New York, NY), 1997.
James A. Baldwin, Collected Essays: Notes of a Native Son,
Nobody Knows My Name, The Fire Next Time, No Name in the
Street, The Devil Finds Work, and Other Essays, Library of
America (New York, NY), 1998.
James Baldwin, Early Novels and Stories, Library of America
(New York, NY), 1998.
Morrison the Writer
It was during the two years, when she was 34-36, a
single, working mom, that she wrote The Bluest Eye,
her first novel. It was published in 1970 by Hold,
Rinehart and Winston.
Sula followed in 1973.
Song of Solomon – 1977
Tar Baby – 1981
Dreaming Emmett – 1986 (play)
Beloved – 1987
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary
Imagination – 1992
Jazz – 1992
Paradise – 1998
Love – 2003
Several children’s books, with her son Slade as coauthor
Accolades and Awards
National Book Award nomination and Ohioana Book Award, both 1975, both
for Sula;
National Book Critics Circle Award and American Academy and Institute of
Arts and Letters Award, both 1977, both for Song of Solomon;
First Black woman ever to appear on the cover of Newsweek.
New York State Governor's Art Award, 1986; National Book Award
nomination and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, both 1987,
and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Robert F. Kennedy Award, and American Book
Award (Before Columbus Foundation), all 1988, all for Beloved;
Elizabeth Cady Stanton Award, National Organization for Women;
Nobel Prize in Literature, (1st African American to win the prize, one of only
8 or 9 women to ever win a Nobel) 1993;
Pearl Buck Award, Rheqium Julii prize, and Condorcet medal (Paris, France),
all 1994;
National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American
Letters, 1996;
National Humanities Medal, 2001;
Subject of Biennial Toni Morrison Society conference in Lorain, OH.