Toni Morrison

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For the rugby league footballer of the 1980s and '90s, see Tony Morrison. For the Louisiana politician, see deLesseps Morrison, Jr..
Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison 2008-2.jpg
Toni Morrison in 2008
Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford
(1931-02-18) February 18, 1931 (age 83)
Lorain, Ohio, United States
Occupation Novelist, writer
Genre African American literature
Notable works Beloved, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye
Notable awards

Presidential Medal of Freedom
2012
Nobel Prize in Literature
1993

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
1988

Signature

Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford;[1] February 18, 1931) is an American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and Beloved. She was also commissioned to write the libretto for a new opera, Margaret Garner, first performed in 2005. She won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for Beloved and the Nobel Prize in 1993. On May 29, 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Early life and career[edit]

Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, to Ramah (née Willis) and George Wofford. She is the second of four children in a working-class family.[2] As a child, Morrison read fervently; among her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. Morrison's father told her numerous folktales of the black community (a method of storytelling that would later work its way into Morrison's writings).[3] According to a 2012 interview in The Guardian, she became a Catholic at the age of 12 and received the baptismal name "Anthony", which later became the basis for her nickname "Toni".[4]

In 1949 Morrison entered Howard University, where she received a B.A. in English in 1953. She earned a Master of Arts degree in English from Cornell University in 1955, for which she wrote a thesis on suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf.[5] After graduation, Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas (1955–57), then returned to Howard to teach English. She became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

In 1958 she married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect and fellow faculty member at Howard University. They had two children, Harold and Slade, and divorced in 1964. After the divorce she moved to Syracuse, New York, where she worked as a textbook editor. A year and a half later, she went to work as an editor at the New York City headquarters of Random House. She also taught at Yale University and Bard College during these years.[5] As an editor, Morrison played a vital role in bringing black literature into the mainstream, editing books by authors such as Henry Dumas,[6] Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, and Gayl Jones.[7]

Writing career[edit]

Toni Morrison at the Miami Book Fair International of 1986

Morrison began writing fiction as part of an informal group of poets and writers at Howard University who met to discuss their work. She attended one meeting with a short story about a black girl who longed to have blue eyes. She later developed the story as her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970). She wrote it while raising two children and teaching at Howard.[5]

In 1975 her novel Sula (1973) was nominated for the National Book Award. Her third novel, Song of Solomon (1977), brought her national attention. The book was a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, the first novel by a black writer to be so chosen since Richard Wright's Native Son in 1940. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

In 1987 Morrison's novel Beloved became a critical success. When the novel failed to win the National Book Award as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award, 48 black critics and writers[8] protested the omission.[5][9] Shortly afterward, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the American Book Award. That same year, Morrison took a visiting professorship at Bard College.

Beloved was adapted into the 1998 film of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. Morrison later used Margaret Garner's life story again in the libretto for a new opera, Margaret Garner, with music by Richard Danielpour. In May 2006, The New York Times Book Review named Beloved the best American novel published in the previous 25 years.

Toni Morrison, on jacket of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved.

In 1993 Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her citation reads: Toni Morrison, "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality." She is currently the last American to have been awarded the honor. Shortly afterward, a fire destroyed her Rockland County, New York home.[2][10]

In 1996 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Morrison for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities.[11] Morrison's lecture, entitled "The Future of Time: Literature and Diminished Expectations,"[12] began with the aphorism, "Time, it seems, has no future." She cautioned against the misuse of history to diminish expectations of the future.[13]

Morrison was honored with 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."[14]

In 2000, The Bluest Eye was chosen as a selection for Oprah's Book Club.[15]

In addition to her novels, Morrison has written books for children with her younger son, Slade Morrison, who worked as a painter and musician. Slade died of pancreatic cancer[16] on December 22, 2010, aged 45.[17] Morrison's novel Home, half-written when Slade died,[16] is dedicated to him.[4][18][19]

Her 11th novel, entitled God Help the Child, has been announced for publication in April 2015.[20]

Relationship to feminism[edit]

Although her novels typically concentrate on black women, Morrison does not identify her works as feminist. When asked in a 1998 interview "Why distance oneself from feminism?" she replied: "In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can't take positions that are closed. Everything I've ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book -- leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, revisitation, a little ambiguity."[21] She went on to state that she thought it "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."[21] Critics, however, have referred to her body of work as exemplifying characteristics of "postmodern feminism" by "altering Euro-American dichotomies by rewriting a history written by mainstream historians" and by her usage of shifting narration in Beloved and Paradise.[22]

Later life[edit]

Morrison taught English at two branches of the State University of New York and at Rutgers University: New Brunswick Campus. In 1984 she was appointed to an Albert Schweitzer chair at the University at Albany, The State University of New York. From 1989 until her retirement in 2006, Morrison held the Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities at Princeton University.[3]

Though based in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton, Morrison did not regularly offer writing workshops to students after the late 1990s, a fact that earned her some criticism. Rather, she has conceived and developed the prestigious Princeton Atelier, a program that brings together talented students with critically acclaimed, world-famous artists. Together the students and the artists produce works of art that are presented to the public after a semester of collaboration. In her position at Princeton, Morrison used her insights to encourage not merely new and emerging writers, but artists working to develop new forms of art through interdisciplinary play and cooperation.

At its 1979 commencement ceremonies, Barnard College awarded her its highest honor, the Barnard Medal of Distinction. Oxford University awarded her an honorary Doctor of Letters degree in June 2005.

In November 2006, Morrison visited the Louvre Museum in Paris as the second in its "Grand Invité" program to guest-curate a month-long series of events across the arts on the theme of "The Foreigner's Home." Inspired by her curatorship, Morrison returned to Princeton in Fall 2008 to lead a small seminar, also entitled "The Foreigner's Home."

In May 2010, Morrison appeared at PEN World Voices for a conversation with Marlene van Niekerk and Kwame Anthony Appiah about South African literature, and specifically, van Niekerk's novel Agaat.[23]

In May 2011, Morrison received an Honorable Doctor of Letters Degree from Rutgers University during commencement where she delivered a speech of the "pursuit of life, liberty, meaningfulness, integrity, and truth."

In March 2012, Morrison established a residency at Oberlin College.[24]

She is currently a member of the editorial board of The Nation magazine.

Politics[edit]

Street art depicting Toni Morrison in Vitoria, Spain.

In writing about the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton, Morrison wrote that, since Whitewater, Bill Clinton had been mistreated because of his "Blackness":

Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.[25]

The phrase "our first Black president" was adopted as a positive by Bill Clinton supporters. When the Congressional Black Caucus honored the former president at its dinner in Washington D.C. on September 29, 2001, for instance, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the chair, told the audience that Clinton "took so many initiatives he made us think for a while we had elected the first black president."[26]

In the context of the 2008 Democratic Primary campaign, Morrison stated to Time magazine: "People misunderstood that phrase. I was deploring the way in which President Clinton was being treated, vis-à-vis the sex scandal that was surrounding him. I said he was being treated like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp. I have no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race."[27] In the Democratic primary contest for the 2008 presidential race, Morrison endorsed Senator Barack Obama over Senator Hillary Clinton,[28] though expressing admiration and respect for the latter.[29]

Papers[edit]

Morrison's papers are part of the permanent library collections of Princeton University.[30] Morrison's decision to add her papers to Princeton instead of her alma mater Howard University faced many comments from the Historical Black College and University community. Vice-President of Content with HBCU Buzz Inc., Robert K. Hoggard wrote in his article "Toni Morrison's Papers Will Go to Princeton? Not Howard": "For far too long, White America has found a way to miss-tell our story. Because of this, it’s more important now than ever to unapologetically support our own Black institutions.... Public White institutions do not need our support, they will thrive without. If we are courageous enough to support our own institutions the sky is the limit for what they can continue to do across America." [31]

Works[edit]

Novels[edit]

Children's literature (with Slade Morrison)[edit]

  • The Big Box (1999)
  • The Book of Mean People (2002)
  • Peeny Butter Fudge (2009)

Short fiction[edit]

Plays[edit]

Libretto[edit]

Non-fiction[edit]

  • The Black Book (1974)
  • Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992)
  • Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality (editor) (1992)
  • Birth of a Nation'hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case (co-editor) (1997)
  • Remember: The Journey to School Integration (April 2004)
  • What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction, edited by Carolyn C. Denard (April 2008)
  • Burn This Book: Essay Anthology, editor (2009)

Articles[edit]

  • "Introduction." Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. [1885] The Oxford Mark Twain, edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. xxxii–xli.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Awards[edit]

Nominations[edit]

  • Grammy Awards 2008 Best Spoken-Word Album for Children - "Who's Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper? The Lion or the Mouse? Poppy or the Snake?"

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Duvall, John N. (2000). The Identifying Fictions of Toni Morrison: Modernist Authenticity and Postmodern Blackness. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-312-23402-7. After all the published biographical information on Morrison agrees that her full name is Chloe Anthony Wofford, so that the adoption of 'Toni' as a substitute for 'Chloe' still honors her given name, if somewhat obliquely. Morrison's middle name, however, was not Anthony; her birth certificate indicates her full name as Chloe Ardelia Wofford, which reveals that Ramah and George Wofford named their daughter for her maternal grandmother, Ardelia Willis. 
  2. ^ a b Dreifus, Claudia (September 11, 1994). "CHLOE WOFFORD Talks about TONI MORRISON". The New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2007. 
  3. ^ a b Larson, Susan (April 11, 2007). "Awaiting Toni Morrison". The Times-Picayune. Retrieved June 11, 2007. 
  4. ^ a b Brockes, Emma (April 13, 2012). "Toni Morrison: 'I want to feel what I feel. Even if it's not happiness'". The Guardian. Retrieved February 14, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d Grimes, William (October 8, 1993). "Toni Morrison Is '93 Winner Of Nobel Prize in Literature". The New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2007. 
  6. ^ Toni Morrison, "On behalf of Henry Dumas", Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 22, No. 2, Henry Dumas Issue (Summer 1988), pp. 310-312.
  7. ^ Verdelle, A. J. (February 1998). "Paradise found: a talk with Toni Morrison about her new novel - Nobel Laureate's new book, 'Paradise' - Interview". Essence Magazine. Retrieved June 11, 2007. [dead link]
  8. ^ ""Writers Demand Recognition for Toni Morrison (1988)", June Jordan Houston A. Baker Jr. STATEMENT, reprinted at aalbc.com". AALBC.com's Discussion Boards. 
  9. ^ Menand, Louis (December 26, 2005). "All That Glitters - Literature's global economy". The New Yorker. Retrieved June 11, 2007. 
  10. ^ "New York Home of Toni Morrison Burns". The New York Times. December 26, 1993. Retrieved June 11, 2007. 
  11. ^ Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
  12. ^ Toni Morrison, "The Future of Time, Literature and Diminished Expectations," reprinted in Toni Morrison, What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction (University Press of Mississippi, 2008), ISBN 978-1-60473-017-3, pp. 170-186.
  13. ^ B. Denise Hawkins, "Marvelous Morrison - Toni Morrison - Award-Winning Author Talks About the Future From Some Place in Time," Diverse Online (formerly Black Issues In Higher Education), June 17, 2007.
  14. ^ "National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, Presenter of National Book Awards". Nationalbook.org. Retrieved May 30, 2012. 
  15. ^ "The Bluest Eye at Oprah's Book Club official page". Oprah.com. 
  16. ^ a b Boris Kachka, "Who Is the Author of Toni Morrison?" (p. 2), New York Magazine, April 29, 2012.
  17. ^ Claudette. "About the Artist". SladeMorrison.com. Retrieved May 14, 2011. 
  18. ^ Bob Minzesheimer, "New novel 'Home' brings Toni Morrison back to Ohio", USA Today, May 7, 2012.
  19. ^ Ipshita Mitra, "Toni Morrison builds a ‘Home’ we never knew", The Times of India, May 14, 2014.
  20. ^ Alison Flood, "Toni Morrison to publish new novel on childhood trauma", The Guardian,
  21. ^ a b Jaffrey, Zia (February 2, 1998). "The Salon Interview with Toni Morrison". Salon.com. Retrieved December 20, 2014. 
  22. ^ Kottiswara, W. S. (2008). Postmodern Feminist Writers. New Dehli: Sarup & Sons. pp. 48–86. 
  23. ^ Video of Toni Morrison and Marlene van Niekerk in Conversation with Anthony Appiah, May 1, 2010.
  24. ^ Nagy, Amanda (March 14, 2012). "College Establishes Partnership with Toni Morrison Society". Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin College. Retrieved March 16, 2012. 
  25. ^ Morrison, Toni (October 5, 1998). "Talk of the Town: Comment". The New Yorker.
  26. ^ "Congressional Black Caucus," at the Wayback Machine (archived December 15, 2007) CNSNews.com, October 2001.
  27. ^ Sachs, Andrea."10 Questions for Toni Morrison", Time, May 7, 2008.
  28. ^ "Headlines for January 29, 2008". Democracy Now!. 2008-01-29. Retrieved May 30, 2012. 
  29. ^ Alexander, Elizabeth."Our first black president? It's worth remembering the context of Toni Morrison's famous phrase about Bill Clinton, so we can retire it, now that Barack Obama is a contender", Salon.com, January 28, 2008.
  30. ^ "Princeton University - Toni Morrison papers to reside at Princeton". 
  31. ^ Robert K Hoggard. ""Toni Morrison's Papers Will Go to Princeton? Not Howard"". hbcubuzz.com. Washington DC: HBCU Buzz Inc. Retrieved December 18, 2014. 
  32. ^ "Wiener Festwochen: Desdemona". Festwochen.at. Retrieved May 30, 2012. 
  33. ^ Thiessen, Erin Russell (May 26, 2011). "Toni Morrison's Desdemona delivers a haunting, powerful "re-membering"". Retrieved October 20, 2011. 
  34. ^ Winn, Steven (October 20, 2011). "Toni Morrison adds twist to 'Desdemona'". Retrieved October 21, 2011. 
  35. ^ 8th Annual RFK Book Award. Robert F. Kennedy Center.
  36. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  37. ^ "Oxford University Gazette, 10 February 2005: University Agenda", University of Oxford, February 2005.
  38. ^ "Dies Academicus 2011", Service de communication, Université de Genève, October 2011.
  39. ^ Toni Morrison's "Intervention", Dies Academicus 2011, Université de Genève, October 14, 2011.
  40. ^ Clark, Lesley. "Obama awards medals to Bob Dylan, Toni Morrison, others". KansasCity.com. Retrieved May 30, 2012. 
  41. ^ Jim Patterson (May 9, 2013). "Novelist Morrison tells grads to embrace interconnectedness". Vanderbilt News. 

External links[edit]