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Inspiring Thursday: Toni Morrison

“Being a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination; it expands it. It’s richer than being a white male writer because I know more and I’ve experienced more.” — Toni Morrison, in a 2003 New Yorker profile.

The award winning Black American female writer, Toni Morrison, passed away last summer on August 5, 2019. The talented storyteller and visionary activist changed the way people talk about Blackness and slavery. Her novels are now read worldwide for their universal themes about injustice, love, broken families, identity and sacrifice. Many of them are also required readings in school´s Curriculums.

Chloe Anthony Wofford was born in February 1931 in Lorain, Ohio (USA). Her childhood was heavily shaped by black culture such as storytelling, songs and folktales. She completed her Bachelor´s degree in English at Howard University and holds a masters from Cornell University (1955).

Morrison accumulated different teaching positions at Texas Southern University, Howard University, State University of New York and Princeton University before retiring in 2006.

However, she is best known for her essays and striking literary pieces. Morrison began to write fiction in the 1960s when she joined a group of poets while working for a publishing company – Random House.  Shortly after, she eventually published her first of 11 novels, The Bluest Eye, the story of a young Black American girl who wishes she had blue eyes.

Morrison also participated on an anthology The Black Book which compiled images and items from African American culture. She came across the story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave who slit her child´s throat rather than having him experience slavery. Garner´s experience enabled Morrison to write Beloved which was eventually published in 1987. The Bluest Eye and Sula, both stories describing the African American experience from a female perspective, were published in the 1970s. Then came Song of Solomon (1977) and Tar Baby (1981).

After Beloved was published, it received abundant praise and Morrison was even awarded the Pulitzer Prize the following year. The book was adapted on screen directed by Jonathan Demme, starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.

Most of her pieces depict the struggle of being black throughout the history in America from slavery to present. Morrison also delves with characters who grapple with their own identity and their place within their society. However, the author´s poetic tone and well-rounded characters and intricate style makes her works both thought-provoking and very accessible.

In 1993, Toni Morrison was the first African American woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature. Amongst the many awards celebrating the author´s success there are: the Pearl Buck Award (1994), the Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, the 2000 National Humanities Medal, 1996 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United states.

Her latest projects aimed to commemorate the lives of the slaves from the 17th century.

“There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road… And because such a place doesn’t exist… the book had to,” she said (The World, 1989).

Morrison passed away in New York at the age of 88 years old due to pneumonia complications.

Written by Claire Davis, WAVE Intern 

Sources  

Toni Morrison: Nobel Prize-winning author dies at 88. BBC News. 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49254776  

Toni Morrison. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Toni-Morrison 

Toni Morrison Biography. Chicago Public Library. https://www.chipublib.org/toni-morrison-biography/ 

Walsh, S. A Look Back at Toni Morrison´s Most Inspiring Quotes On Everything From Love to Loss. Elle. 2019. https://www.elle.com/culture/a28621222/toni-morrison-inspiring-quotes/