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Toni Morrison: About

Toni Morrison


Who was Toni Morrison?

Toni Morrison is one of the most celebrated authors in the world. In addition to writing plays, and children’s books, her novels have earned her countless prestigious awards including the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. As the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Morrison’s work has inspired a generation of writers to follow in her footsteps.

Toni Morrison was born on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. The second of four children, Morrison’s birth name was Chloe Anthony Wofford. Although she grew up in a semi-integrated area, racial discrimination was a constant threat. When Morrison was two years old, the owner of her family’s apartment building set their home on fire while they were inside because they were unable to afford the rent. Morrison turned her attention to her studies and became an avid reader. She was able to use her intellect on the debate team, her school’s yearbook staff, and eventually as a secretary for the head librarian at the Lorain Public Library. When she was twelve years old, she converted to Catholicism and was baptized under the name Anthony after Saint Anthony of Padua. She later went by the nickname “Toni” after this saint.

In 1949, Morrison decided to attend a historically black institution for her college education. She moved to Washington, D.C. to attend Howard University. While in college, Morrison experienced racial segregation in a new way. She joined the university’s theatrical group called the Howard University Players, and frequently toured the segregated south with the play. In addition, she witnessed how racial hierarchy divided people of color based on their skin tone. However, the community at Howard University also allowed her to make connections with other writers, artists, and activists that influenced her work. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English, Morrison attended Cornell University to earn the Master of Arts in English. When she graduated in 1955, she began teaching English at Texas Southern University but returned to Howard University as a professor. While back at the university, Morrison taught the young civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael, and met her husband Harold Morrison. The couple had two children, Harold and Slade.

After teaching at Howard University for seven years, Morrison moved to Syracuse, New York to become an editor for the textbook division of Random House publishing. Within two years, she transferred to the New York City branch of the company and began to edit fiction and books by African-American authors. Although she worked for a publishing company, Morrison did not publish her first novel called The Bluest Eye until was she was 39 years old. Three years later, Morrison published her second novel called Sula, that was nominated for the National Book Award. By her third novel in 1977, Toni Morrison became a household name.  Continue reading from National Women's History Museum

From our Collection

Link to Beloved by Toni Morrison in the catalog
Link to The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison in the catalog
Link to Sula by Toni Morrison in the catalog
Link to A Mercy by Toni Morrison in the catalog
Link to Home by Toni Morrison in the catalog
Link to The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison in the catalog
Link to Love by Toni Morrison in the catalog
Link to The Measure of Our Lives by Toni Morrison in the catalog
Link to Paradise by Toni Morrison in the catalog
Link to Goodness and the Literary Imagination by  Toni Morrison in the caalog
Link to Toni Morrison the Pieces I Am (film) in the catalog
Link to God Help the Child by Toni Morrison in the catalog
Link to Jazz by Toni Morrison in the catalog
Link to Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison in the catalog
Link to Beloved (film) in the catalog
Link to The Toni Morrison book club by Juda Bennett in the catalog

Link to African American History Resource Guide Series Homepage