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 daughter 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 children. Her mother – the passive aggressive activist 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. Lorain 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 University. 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 issues. 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), 1974. 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), 1996. (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.