Toni Morrison (1931-2019)

Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, 88, died August 5, 2019 in the Bronx, of complications from pneumonia. Morrison was celebrated for her complex and emotionally rich novels about womanhood and the black experience in America. She often used supernatural and magical realist elements in her work, notably in National Book Critics Circle Award winner Song of Solomon (1976), Pulitzer Prize winner Beloved (1987; adapted as a feature film in 1998), and God Help the Child (2015).

Chloe Ardelia Wofford was born February 18, 1931 in Lorain OH. She joined the Catholic church when she was 12, taking on the baptismal name Anthony; she began going by Toni during her undergrad years at Howard University. She graduated with a degree in English in 1953, and got her Master’s at Cornell in 1955. She taught English at Texas Southern University for two years before joining the faculty at Howard. While there she enrolled in a fiction workshop and started writing what would become her first novel. She married Harold Morrison in 1958; they divorced in 1964. Afterward she moved to Syracuse NY with her children and began editing textbooks at Random House, and then relocated to New York City to edit trade books, where her authors included Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali. As an editor, she strove to bring black literature to greater prominence, working on groundbreaking titles including Contemporary African Literature (1972) and The Black Book (1974). From 1989 until her retirement in 2006 she was on the creative writing faculty at Princeton University.

Morrison’s debut The Bluest Eye appeared in 1970. She followed it with Sula (1973), but Song of Solomon was her breakthrough title, chosen as a main selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club (the first novel by a black author chosen since Richard Wright’s Native Son 37 years earlier. Other novels include Tar Baby (1981), Jazz (1992), Paradise (1997), Love (2003), A Mercy (2008), and Home (2012). Her non-fiction books include Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) and What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction (2008). She wrote books for younger children with her son, artist Slade Morrison, who predeceased her in 2010. She also wrote the libretto for opera Margaret Garner (2005) and worked on opera Desdemona (2011).

Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 — the first black woman ever so honored. She received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, and the Pen/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction in 2016.

She is survived by her son Harold Ford Morrison and three grandchildren.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *