Toni Morrison, is one of America’s greatest novelists, who immortalized the lives of Black African people brought to America as slaves. She was an editor and an academic; authored eleven novels, some non-fiction books, and many children’s books. Her first novel was The Bluest Eye written in 1977, about an adolescent black girl during time of the Great Depression, who believes she is ugly because of her dark skin, leading to tragic consequences. Some of her other acclaimed novels are Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981), Beloved (1987), and A Mercy (2008). Her last novel was God Help the Child, written in 2015, in which she discusses child abuse and its implications.
Toni Morrison was the pen name of Chloe Anthony Wofford, born on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio, US. She was the second child of George Wofford, a welder by profession and Ramah Willis Wofford, a domestic worker. From childhood, she was an avid reader and her parents encouraged her to read. Her favourites were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. Morrison completed her graduation in English in 1953 from Howard University and her master’s degree in American Literature from Cornell University, New York in 1955. Her thesis was on the works of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. Toni taught at Texas Southern University for two years (1955-57). After that, she returned to teach at Howard University; where she met Harold Morrison, an architect by profession, whom she married in 1958. In 1964, she joined a textbook publishing house as an editor, and worked there for eighteen months. By the end of that time, she had divorced her husband and moved to New York City with her two sons. There she joined Random House as an editor, becoming their first Black female editor of fiction. Morrison worked with Random House from 1965-1983; interacting with many well-known authors like Gayl Jones and Angela Davis. During that time, she joined a group of writers and poets who met regularly and discussed their work. To participate in those discussions, she prepared a short story, which she further expanded into a novel, The Bluest Eye (1977). This was the beginning of her literary career. In the same year, Toni Morrison became the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of Humanities at Princeton University. This was another achievement as she was the first African-American woman writer to hold a named chair at an Ivy League University.
For her novel Beloved, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1988. In 1993, Morrison won the Nobel Prize for her contribution to literature, the first African-American woman to receive this honour. In 2012, she was endowed with the Presidential Medal of Freedom presented by President Barack Obama. In 2016, she was also awarded the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for achievement in American Fiction. Morrison died on August 5, 2019 at Montefiore Medical Centre in New York. She was 88.
Toni Morrison is unparalleled in her depiction of the Black experience, seen through the lens of history. She explores issues of race and gender in her books. The novels attest the redemptive power of community and the role played by women in keeping tradition alive. Populated almost entirely by Black people, most of her fiction has non-linear plots and delves into the deepest recesses of the human spirit.