BY WALTER OPINDE
Toni Morrison was born “Chloe Anthony Wofford” in Lorain, Ohio after her parents relocated to the North, to escape the problems of the Southern racism. On both sides of her family were migrants and sharecroppers. She spent her childhood in the Midwest and read avidly, from Jane Austen to Tolstoy. Morrison’s father, George, was a welder; he told her folktales of the black community, transferring his African-American heritage to her generation. In 1949 she entered Howard University in Washington, D.C., one of the America’s most distinguished black college. Morrison continued her studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York where she received her M.A. in 1955. Between 1955 and 1957, Morrison was an instructor in English at Texas Southern University, at Houston. She also taught in the English department at Howard.
Morrison got married to Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, in 1958. Together they had two children, Harold Ford and Slade Kevin. After 6 years of marriage, she divorced Harold in 1964. While working and caring for her children, Morrison wrote her first novel, “The Bluest Eyes,” which became widely known in the public domain in 1970. She continued to write novels and, later, Morrison was appointed to fill the position of Robert Goheen, a Professor of the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University, in the spring of 1989. Therefore, she became the first black woman ever to hold a chair at an Ivy League School. Morrison now continues to teach fiction and lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
In 1970, Morrison’s literary career began when “The Bluest Eye” was published. Set in Morrison’s hometown, the novel received critical acclaim but failed to attract the public’s interest. “Sula,” Morrison’s second novel, was published in 1973, and because of her insightful portrayal of the African-American lifestyle. Sula was nominated for National Book Award and received the Ohioana Book Award. Her next novel, “Song of Solomon” (1977), was a paperback best seller. It’s homage to the richness of the black cultural heritage helped Morrison win two more awards: the National Book Critics Circle Award and American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award. Later, in 1987, Morrison published “Beloved.” This novel illustrated the horrifying lives of slaves and how one ex-slave’s past haunts her. The novel received international success and was honored with the Pulitzer Prize. “Beloved” also won other awards including New York State Governor’s Arts Award, First recipient of the Washington College Literary Award, National Book Award nomination and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination.
Moreover, in 1993, Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature as an author “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” She became the eighth woman and the first African-American to win the prize. After hearing the news from a colleague at Princeton University, she was happy and honored by her achievement. She further explained, “What is most wonderful for me, personally, is to know that the Prize, at last, has been awarded to an African-American. Winning as an American is very special, but winning as a Black American is a knockout.” After receiving the highest honor in literature, Morrison continued her success and re-entered the best sellers list with the publication of Paradise and later wrote with her son “The Big Box.”
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. She was honored with the 1996 National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Morrison wrote the libretto for a new opera, Margaret Garner, first performed in 2005. On 29th May, 2012, President Barack Obama presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016 she received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.
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