"I don't think anybody cares about unwed mothers unless they're black or poor. The question is not morality, the question is money. That's what we're upset about." -- Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford on February 18, 1931) is a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed black characters. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and Beloved.
"A lot of black people believe that Jews in this country have become white. They behave like white people rather than Jewish people.""All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.""As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.""At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.""Black boys became criminalized. I was in constant dread for their lives, because they were targets everywhere. They still are.""Black literature is taught as sociology, as tolerance, not as a serious, rigorous art form.""Black people are victims of an enormous amount of violence. None of those things can take place without the complicity of the people who run the schools and the city.""Black people have always been used as a buffer in this country between powers to prevent class war.""Everybody gets everything handed to them. The rich inherit it. I don't mean just inheritance of money. I mean what people take for granted among the middle and upper classes, which is nepotism, the old-boy network.""Everything I've ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it.""Everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth.""For a long time I was convinced that the conflict between Jewish people and black people in this country was a media event.""Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.""I always looked upon the acts of racist exclusion, or insult, as pitiable, from the other person. I never absorbed that. I always thought that there was something deficient about such people.""I don't think a female running a house is a problem, a broken family. It's perceived as one because of the notion that a head is a man.""I get angry about things, then go on and work.""I like marriage. The idea.""I merged those two words, black and feminist, because I was surrounded by black women who were very tough and and who always assumed they had to work and rear children and manage homes.""I think some aspects of writing can be taught. Obviously, you can't teach vision or talent. But you can help with comfort.""I would solve a lot of literary problems just thinking about a character in the subway, where you can't do anything anyway.""I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.""I'm always annoyed about why black people have to bear the brunt of everybody else's contempt. If we are not totally understanding and smiling, suddenly we're demons.""I'm not entangled in shaping my work according to other people's views of how I should have done it.""If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.""If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.""If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.""If you're going to hold someone down you're going to have to hold on by the other end of the chain. You are confined by your own repression.""In becoming an American, from Europe, what one has in common with that other immigrant is contempt for me-it's nothing else but color.""In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.""It's been mentioned or suggested that Paradise will not be well studied, because it's about this unimportant intellectual topic, which is religion.""Love is or it ain't. Thin love ain't love at all.""Make a difference about something other than yourselves.""My children are delightful people, whom I would love even if they weren't my children.""Nelson Mandela is, for me, the single statesman in the world. The single statesman, in that literal sense, who is not solving all his problems with guns. It's truly unbelievable.""No one ever talks about the moment you found that you were white. Or the moment you found out you were black. That's a profound revelation. The minute you find that out, something happens. You have to renegotiate everything.""One of my kids was born in 1968. There were going to be political difficulties, but they were never going to have that level of hatred and contempt that my brothers and my sister and myself were exposed to.""Schools must stop being holding pens to keep energetic young people off the job market and off the streets. We stretch puberty out a long, long time.""She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.""Some Native American writers enjoy being called Native American writers.""Somebody has to take responsibility for being a leader.""The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.""The body is ready to have babies. Nature wants it done then, when the body can handle it, not after 40, when the income can handle it.""The unflattering reviews are painful for short periods of time; the badly written ones are deeply, deeply insulting. That reviewer took no time to really read the book.""There is nothing of any consequence in education, in the economy, in city planning, in social policy that does not concern black people.""There is really nothing more to say-except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.""We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.""When there is pain, there are no words. All pain is the same.""Women's rights is not only an abstraction, a cause; it is also a personal affair. It is not only about us; it is also about me and you. Just the two of us.""You marvel at the economy and this choice of words. How many ways can you describe the sky and the moon? After Sylvia Plath, what can you say?""You need a whole community to raise a child. I have raised two children, alone."
Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio to George and Ramah (Willis) Wofford, the second of four children in a working-class family. As a child, Morrison read constantly; among her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. Morrison's father told her numerous folktales of the black community (a method of storytelling that would later work its way into Morrison's writings).
In 1949 Morrison entered Howard University, where she received a B.A. in English in 1953. She then earned a Master of Arts degree in English from Cornell University in 1955, for which she wrote a thesis on suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf . After graduation, Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas (1955—57), then returned to Howard to teach English. She became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
In 1958 she married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect and fellow faculty member at Howard University. They had two children, Harold and Slade, and divorced in 1964. After the divorce she moved to Syracuse, New York, where she worked as a textbook editor. A year and a half later she went to work as an editor at the New York City headquarters of Random House.
As an editor Morrison played a vital role in bringing black literature into the mainstream, editing books by authors such as Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, and Gayl Jones.
Morrison began writing fiction as part of an informal group of poets and writers at Howard University who met to discuss their work. She went to one meeting with a short story about a black girl who longed to have blue eyes. The story later evolved into her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), which she wrote while raising two children and teaching at Howard. In 2000 it was chosen as a selection for Oprah's Book Club.
In 1975 her novel Sula (1973) was nominated for the National Book Award. Her third novel, Song of Solomon (1977), brought her national attention. The book was a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, the first novel by a black writer to be so chosen since Richard Wright's Native Son in 1940. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
In 1987 Morrison's novel Beloved became a critical success. When the novel failed to win the National Book Award as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award, a number of writers protested over the omission. Shortly afterward, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the American Book Award. Beloved was adapted into the 1998 film of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. Morrison later used Margaret Garner's life story again in an opera, Margaret Garner, with music by Richard Danielpour. In May 2006, The New York Times Book Review named Beloved the best American novel published in the previous twenty-five years.
In 1993 Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her citation reads: Toni Morrison, "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality." Shortly afterwards, a fire destroyed her Rockland County, New York home.
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. Morrison's lecture, entitled "The Future of Time: Literature and Diminished Expectations," began with the aphorism, "Time, it seems, has no future," and cautioned against misuse of history to diminish expectations of the future.
Morrison was honored with the 1996 National Book Foundation's Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, which is awarded to a writer "who has enriched our literary heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work."
Although her novels typically concentrate on black women, Morrison does not identify her works as feminist. She has stated that she thinks "it's off-putting to some readers, who may feel that I'm involved in writing some kind of feminist tract. I don't subscribe to patriarchy, and I don't think it should be substituted with matriarchy. I think it's a question of equitable access, and opening doors to all sorts of things."
In addition to her novels, Morrison has also co-written books for children with her younger son, Slade Morrison, who works as a painter and musician.
Morrison taught English at two branches of the State University of New York. In 1984 she was appointed to an Albert Schweitzer chair at the University at Albany, The State University of New York. From 1989 until her retirement in 2006, Morrison held the Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities at Princeton University.
Though based in the Creative Writing Program, Morrison did not regularly offer writing workshops to students after the late 1990s, a fact that earned her some criticism. Rather, she has conceived and developed the prestigious Princeton Atelier, a program that brings together talented students with critically acclaimed, world-famous artists. Together the students and the artists produce works of art that are presented to the public after a semester of collaboration. In her position at Princeton, Morrison used her insights to encourage not merely new and emerging writers, but artists working to develop new forms of art through interdisciplinary play and cooperation.
At its 1979 commencement ceremonies, Barnard College awarded her its highest honor, the Barnard Medal of Distinction. Oxford University awarded her an honorary Doctor of Letters degree in June 2005.
In November 2006, Morrison visited the Louvre Museum in Paris as the second in its "Grand Invité" program to guest-curate a month-long series of events across the arts on the theme of "The Foreigner's Home." Inspired by her curatorship, Morrison returned to Princeton in Fall 2008 to lead a small seminar, also entitled "The Foreigner's Home."
In May 2010, Morrison appeared at Pen World Voices for a conversation with Marlene van Niekerk and Kwame Anthony Appiah about South African literature, and specifically, van Niekerk's novel, Agaat.
She is currently a member of the editorial board of The Nation magazine.
In writing about the impeachment in 1998, Morrison wrote that, since Whitewater, Bill Clinton had been mistreated because of his "Blackness":
Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.
The phrase "our first Black president" was adopted as a positive by Bill Clinton supporters such as on September 29, 2001, when the Congressional Black Caucus honored the former president at its dinner in Washington D.C., with the chair, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), telling the audience that Clinton "took so many initiatives he made us think for a while we had elected the first black president.".
In the context of the 2008 Democratic Primary campaign, Morrison stated to Time magazine: "People misunderstood that phrase. I was deploring the way in which President Clinton was being treated, vis-à-vis the sex scandal that was surrounding him. I said he was being treated like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp. I have no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race." In the Democratic primary contest for the 2008 presidential race, Morrison endorsed Senator Barack Obama over Senator Hillary Clinton, though expressing admiration and respect for the latter.
1977 National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon
1977 American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award
1987-88 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
1988 American Book Award for Beloved
1988 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Race Relations for Beloved
1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Beloved
1989 MLA Commonwealth Award in Literature
1993 Nobel Prize for Literature
1993 Commander of the Arts and Letters, Paris
1994 Condorcet Medal, Paris
1994 Pearl Buck Award
1994 Rhegium Julii Prize for Literature
1996 Jefferson Lecture
1996 National Book Foundation's Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
2000 National Humanities Medal
Frederic G. Melcher Book Award (named for an editor of Publishers Weekly), 1988 for "Beloved". A remark in her acceptance speech that “there is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby” honoring the memory of the human beings forced into slavery and brought to the United States. “There’s no small bench by the road,” led the Toni Morrison Society to begin installing benches at significant sites in the history of slavery in America; the first “bench by the road” was dedicated July 26, 2008 on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, the point of entry for approximately 40 percent of the enslaved Africans brought to British North America.
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Toni Morrison on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
Grammy Awards 2008 Best Spoken Word Album for Children - "Who's Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper? The Lion or the Mouse? Poppy or the Snake?"