Morrison, Toni

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Morrison, Toni

Toni Morrison, 1931–, American writer, b. Lorain, Ohio, as Chloe Ardelia (later Anthony) Wofford; grad. Howard Univ. (B.A., 1953), Cornell (M.F.A., 1955). Her fiction is noted for its poetic language, lush detail, emotional intensity, and sensitive observation of American life as viewed from a variety of African-American perspectives. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), is the story of a girl ruined by a racist society and its violence. Song of Solomon (1977; National Book Award) established her as one of America's leading novelists. It concerns a middle-class man who achieves self-knowledge through the discovery of his rural black heritage. Her later fiction includes Beloved (1987; Pulitzer Prize), a powerful account of mother love, murder, and the legacy of slavery; and Jazz (1992), a tale of love and murder set in Harlem in the 1920s. Her other novels are Sula (1973), Tar Baby (1981), Paradise (1997), Love (2003), A Mercy (2008), Home (2012), and God Help the Child (2015).

Among Morrison's other works are the essay collections Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power (1992), Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992), and The Origin of Others (2017), essays on race, belonging, and literature based on her Harvard Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (2016). She has also created several children's books, including The Big Box (2000), written with her son, Slade; a play, Dreaming Emmett (1986); a song cycle, Honey and Me (1992), written with André Previn; an opera libretto, Margaret Garner (2003); and, in collaboration with Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré, Desdemona (2011), a reinterpretation of Shakespeare's Othello. Awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, she was the first African American to win. Morrison, who was an influential Random House editor for nearly two decades, has been a professor at Princeton since 1989 and founded (1994) the Princeton Atelier, a writers' and performers' workshop.

See D. Taylor-Guthrie, ed., Conversations with Toni Morrison (1994) and C. Y. Denard, ed., Toni Morrison: Conversations (2008); studies by B. W. Jones (1985), A. I. Vinson (1985), N. Y. McKay, ed. (1988), H. Bloom (1990, repr. 2005), H. L. Gates, Jr., and K. A. Appiah, ed. (1993), P. Page (1995), N. J. Peterson, ed. (1997), L. Peach (1995 and, as ed., 1998), D. L. Middleton, ed. (2000), S. A. Stave, ed. (2006), J. L. Carlacio (2007), S. N. Mayberry (2007), J. L. J. Heinert (2008), L. V. D. Jennings (2008), R. Lister (2009), and K. Zauditu-Selassie (2009).

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