Biography of Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison was an American novelist, essayist, editor, and professor. Her contributions to literature were recognized worldwide when she received the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, Morrison attended Howard University and Cornell University in the 1950s before becoming the first black woman fiction editor at the publishing giant Random House. In 1970 she published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, and proceeded to publish a string of novels that garnered critical acclaim, along with the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2012, President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Morrison's writing was greatly influenced by her family. Her grandparents had relocated to Ohio during the national movement of black Americans out of the South known as the Great Migration. After leaving their farm in Alabama, Morrison’s mother’s parents moved to Kentucky, and then to Ohio. They placed a high value on the education of their children and themselves. Morrison was a gifted student, learning to read at an early age and doing well at her studies at an integrated school. Morrison attended Hawthorne Elementary School, where she was the only African American in her first-grade classroom.

One of the most critically acclaimed American writers, Morrison is considered a major architect of a literary language for African Americans. Her work often features black vernacular, black settings, and is focused on blackness—unusual for her time. Her writing is considered to have formed a distinctly black literary sensibility, while drawing a reading audience that cut across racial boundaries.

Morrison's peers and critics have commended her not only for her creation of a literary language for African Americans, but also for the way her writing privileged and displayed the interiority of Black America. Angela Davis credits Morrison with teaching the world “to imagine enslaved women and men with full lives, with complex subjectivities, with interiority,” and essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah says that Morrison gave Black America “a record of gesture and custom and being and belonging.” Morrison is also recognized for the work she did as an editor for Random House, where she worked closely with black authors and published books by Muhammad Ali, Henry Dumas, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Toni Cade Bambara, and Gail Jones. By highlighting the voices of other black writers, Morrison paved the way for African-American studies and black female literary criticism in the academy.

On August 5, 2019, Toni Morrison died at the age of eighty-eight in The Bronx, New York City.


Study Guides on Works by Toni Morrison

Beloved is Toni Morrison's fifth novel. Published in 1987 as Morrison was enjoying increasing popularity and success, Beloved became a best seller and received the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Its reception by critics was overwhelming, and the...

Published in 1970, The Bluest Eye came about at a critical moment in the history of American civil rights. Morrison began Pecola's story as a short piece in 1962; it became a novel-in-progress by 1965. It was written, as one can see from the...

Desdemona is a play that first debuted at Theater Akzent in Vienna, Austria in 2011 and published in 2012 by Oberon Books. The work was a team effort consisting of Toni Morrison, Rokia Traoré, and Peter Sellars. The titular role belongs to...

Jazz was first published in 1992, a year before Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Chronologically, Jazz is Morrison's sixth novel of seven, followed by Paradise and preceded by The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby...

A Mercy is a non-fiction novel written by American author Toni Morrison. Morrison is an author, a teacher, and a professor in the Princeton University. She won numerous prizes, including the Nobel for literature, and is most known for her story...

Paradise was published in 1997, the seventh of Morrison’s novels and her first after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. It completes a trilogy that begins with Beloved and follows with Jazz, each probing themes of memory, violence,...

"Recitatif" is Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison’s only short story. It was published in 1983 in Amiri and Amina Baraka’s Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women. Though race is a central component of the story about two...

Song of Solomon, a rich and empowering novel published in 1977 that focuses on black life across America, follows the path of Milkman Dead, a young black male in search for his identity. Toni Morrison's gift of storytelling clearly shines through...

Published in 1973, Sula is Toni Morrison’s second novel. Like her first novel, The Bluest Eye, this one also deals with the life experiences of two black girls. Yet it does not merely address the childhood experiences but follows the girls as they...

Toni Morrison's short story "Sweetness," published in 2015, is about a light-skinned black mother who gives birth to a dark-skinned daughter who the mother fears and struggles to love. The mother justifies her prejudice by reflecting on how...

Tar Baby is a novel written by Toni Morrison and published in 1981. Morrison was a professor at various universities all over the United States, but she moved to NYC to become a part time writer in the mornings before she went to work as an editor...

Born in raised in small town Ohio, author Toni Morrison accomplished a lot in her 88 year long life. After receiving her undergraduate degree in English from Harvard and her master's degree in American Literature from Cornell University, she went...