Toni Morrison, 1931-2019

  • Toni-Morrison-WWP

Woman Category: Literature & PoetryWoman Tags: Abolitionist, African-American Women, Author, Nobel Prize, NYC Women, and Pulitzer Prize

  • HerStory

    The first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    The award-winning novelist published her first book when she was almost 40 years old. Her works revolve around the history of slavery and contemporary African-American experience.
    Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford, she lived in six different homes during her childhood. She wanted to be a dancer, but as a teenager worked as a domestic. Morrison graduated from Howard University with a BA in English and later received a Master’s Degree from Cornell University. She was married for six years to architect Harold Morrison and had two sons, one of them died of cancer when he was in his forties. After the divorce, she managed a job as an editor in a publishing house, lecturing and being a single mother. She started working on her first novel in her late thirties, waking up at 4 am to write before going to her day job.
    Her first novel ‘The Bluest Eye’ was published in 1970, her second novel ‘Sula’ won thr Ohioana Book Award, and her third book ‘Song of Solomon’ won several prizes. Her greatest fame came with 1987 novel ‘Beloved’ which is based on the true story of Margaret Garner, who escaped slavery and killed her child to remain in freedom. The book received the Pulitzer Prize, was adapted into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey, and an opera.
    Morrison went on to publish more than ten novels, write plays, co-author children’s books with her son, lecture, and curate an exhibition on migration at the Louvre Museum in Paris. In 1993 she became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

    “Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down”

    “Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Everything she writes for the first time is written with a pencil.
    • When people struggled to pronounce her name Chloe, she embraced the name Toni – a nickname that developed from her baptismal name Anthony.
    • One of her childhood homes was set on fire by the landlord when her parents couldn’t pay the rent.
    • She likes to watch the crime shows “Law & Order” and “Waking the Dead”.
    • She rereads novels by Ruth Rendell and Martha Grimes.
    • In her early days as a single mother and a writer, she was supported by a network of women who lived in Queens, Harlem, and Brooklyn, including Toni Cade Bambara and Sonia Sanchez.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * 1988 Pulitzer Prize
    * City of New York Mayor’s Award of Honor for Art and Culture
    * State of Ohio, Ohioana Career Medal Award
    * Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (Paris, France)
    * National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (1996)
    * National Humanities Medal (2000)
    * Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle
    * Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Toni Morrison Nobel Lecture (1993)

    "The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek - it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language - all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas."

  • Portrait of Toni Morrison by Robert McCurdy @ 2006, presented at the National Portrait Gallery. Photo credit - WWP team.