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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Toni Morrison
(b. 1931)

Since winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, Toni Morrison has become an industry. As much a household name as some of the writers in the Black Arts movement of the 1960s, Morrison is author, critic, lecturer, teacher, and public servant. Since she made her debut on the literary scene with the publication of The Bluest Eye in 1970, she has been a model worthy of emulation and a paragon of success. Her seven novels to date make her one of the most prolific African American women novelists, and her international reputation makes her one of the best-known American writers. Critically acclaimed for her deft use of language and lyrical writing, Morrison also counts among her honors the National Book Critics’ Circle Award as well as the Pulitzer Prize.

Now known as Toni Morrison, Chloe Anthony Wofford was born in Lorain, Ohio, on February 18, 1931, to Rahmah Willis Wofford and George Wofford, both migrants from the South. Her storytelling home environment enabled Morrison to enter first grade as the only child in her class who already knew how to read, a skill that she would cultivate as an adolescent by reading Russian novels, Madame Bovary, and works by Jane Austen. She graduated with honors from Lorain High School and entered Howard University, where she changed her name to Toni (people had trouble pronouncing Chloe) and traveled through the South during summer break with the Howard University Players. She earned a B.A. in English with a minor in classics in 1953. In 1955, she earned a master’s degree in English from Cornell University with a now frequently referenced thesis on suicide in the works of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner.

Morrison has retained close contacts with academia and has held several teaching appointments, including ones at Texas Southern University (1955–1957) and Howard University (1957–1964). She began to write in 1957, after she returned to Howard as an instructor in English; she joined a group of ten black writers in Washington, D.C. It was there that she met and married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect. The couple had two sons, Harold Ford and Kevin Slade, before they divorced in 1964. Morrison returned briefly to her parents’ home in Ohio before getting an editing job with a textbook subsidiary of Random House in Syracuse, New York, where she moved in 1965.

From 1969 to 1970, Morrison was an instructor at the State University of New York at Purchase. From 1975 to 1977, she served as Distinguished Visiting Professor at Yale University and as Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at Bard College from 1979 to 1980. Named Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities at the State University of New York at Albany, she left Random House to assume that position in 1984. She held it until 1989, when she moved to Princeton University to accept her second endowed professorship, that of Robert F. Gosheen Professor of the Council of the Humanities, from which illustrious position she teaches courses in African American studies and creative writing.

Her richly rewarded creative output and public service, including a stint as co-chairperson of the Schomburg Library’s Commission for the Preservation of Black Culture and a term on the board of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, have earned Morrison an unmatched reputation among African American women writers as well as among American writers in general.

Trudier Harris
University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill

In the Heath Anthology
from Sula
      1922 (1973)

Other Works
The Bluest Eye (1970)
The Black Book (1974)
Song of Solomon (1977)
Tar Baby (1981)
Beloved (1987)
Jazz (1992)
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992)

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Anninna's Toni Morrison Page
An excellent source for information about each of her major books and Morrison interviews.

Interview: Toni Morrison
A interview conducted by Zia Jaffrey.

Nobel Lecture
The complete text of Morrison's 1993 speech.

Ownership and the Loss of Communal Ties in Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye"
Scholarly paper on themes in The Bluest Eye.

Toni Morrison, Author
A relatively sparse site exploring five of Morrison's novels by key themes and motifs.

Secondary Sources

Patrick Bryce Bjork, The Novels of Toni Morrison (1996)

Karen Carmean, Toni Morrison's World of Fiction (1993)

Ron David, Toni Morison Explained: A Reader's Raod Map to the Novels (2000)

Pin-chia Feng, The Female Bildungsroman by Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston (1998)

Jan Furman, Toni Morrison's Fiction (1996)

Trudier Harris, Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison (1991)

Missy Dehn Kubitschek, Toni Morrison: A Critical Companion (1998)

Marilyn Sanders Mobley, Folk Roots and Mythic Wings in Sarah Orne Jewett and Toni Morrison (1991)

Linden Peach, Toni Morrison (1995)