Home > Uncategorized > February 18 – Toni Morrison

February 18 – Toni Morrison

In keeping with the literary theme this week, let’s wish a Happy Birthday to Chloe Anthony Wofford, the first Black Woman to ever receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Of course, few of us (except maybe Andrea) know her by her given name. We’re a little more familiar with her pen name. Can you guess who it is?…

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. Her parents, George and Ramah Willis Wofford had moved to Ohio from the South to seek better opportunities and to escape racism. Lorain was a diverse community made up of Mexicans, Southern Blacks, and Immigrant Europeans, and Chloe’s school was an integrated one, so her younger years were relatively free of the discrimination Blacks faced elsewhere. To keep her grounded in her heritage, Chloe’s parents filled her youth with the songs, folklore and histories of the Black South.

Chloe was an excellent student and a voracious reader, citing Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Austen as some of her favorites. After graduating with honors from Lorain High School, she left to attend Howard University where she majored in English and minored in Classics. It was during this period that she changed her name from Chloe (which she says many couldn’t pronounce) to Toni (a shortened form of her middle name). She would later marry (and 6 years later divorce) Harold Morrison, completing her transition to Toni Morrison.

After graduating from Howard, Toni completed a Masters in English at Cornell, taught at Texas Southern University and Howard University, and then began working as an editor for Random House Publishing. In the midst of all the teaching and work, and while raising 2 sons on her own, she somehow found time to write. Using a short story she’d written years ago for a small writer’s group at Howard, she began building a novel which would eventually be published as The Bluest Eye. This effort was well received by critics, as were each of her following works such as Sula (1973, winner of the National Book Award), Song of Solomon (1977, National Book Critics Circle Award winner), and perhaps her most famous novel, Beloved (1987, winner of the Pulitzer Price for Fiction and the American Book Award).

Morrison’s novels typically focus on black female characters, but she is quick to point out that she is Not a feminist because “it’s off-putting to some readers, who may feel that I’m involved in writing some kind of feminist tract. I don’t subscribe to patriarchy, and I don’t think it should be substituted with matriarchy. I think it’s a question of equitable access, and opening doors to all sorts of things.

Toni Morrison has received numerous other Awards and Honors, including the Jefferson Lecture(the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities), the 1996 National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (which is awarded to a writer “who has enriched our literary heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work”), and the 2000 National Humanities Medal. She spent the last two decades teaching, holding writing workshops, and forming collaborations between aspiring writers and artists. In 2006, Morrison finally retired at the age of 75, and now lives in Princeton, NJ and Upstate New York.

Thanks for reading, and Happy Birthday Toni!

francis

“Black literature is taught as sociology, as tolerance, not as a serious, rigorous art form.” ~Toni Morrison

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