Toni Morrison: TOE-ni MAWR-uh-suhn
Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio in 1931. The
volume of critical and popular acclaim that has arisen around the work of Toni
Morrison is virtually unparalleled in modern letters. Her six major novels - The
Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Sula, Tar Baby, Beloved, and Jazz - have
collected nearly every major literary prize. Ms. Morrison received the National
Book Critics Circle Award in 1977 for Song of Solomon. In 1987, Beloved
was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Her body of work was awarded the Nobel Prize in
literature in 1993. Other major awards include: the 1996 National Book
Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the Pearl
Buck Award (1994), the title of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters
(Paris, 1994), and 1978 Distinguished Writer Award from the American Academy of
Arts and Letters.
Ms. Morrison was appointed Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University in the spring of 1989. Before coming to Princeton, she held teaching posts at Yale University, Bard College, and Rutgers University. In 1990 she delivered the Clark lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Massey Lectures at Harvard University. Ms. Morrison was also a senior editor at Random House for twenty years. She has degrees from Howard and Cornell Universities.
A host of colleges and universities have given honorary degrees to Ms. Morrison. Among them are Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Sarah Lawrence College, Dartmouth, Yale, Georgetown, Columbia University and Brown University. Ms. Morrison was commissioned by Carnegie Hall in 1992 to write lyrics for "Honey and Me", an original piece of music by Andre Previn. The lyrics were sung in performance by Kathleen Battle. In 1997, she wrote the lyrics for "Sweet Talk", which was written by Richard Danielpour and performed in concert by Jessye Norman. Ms. Morrison lives in Princeton, New Jersey and upstate New York.
In a 2012 interview with New York Magazine, Morrison expressed regret for using the name "Toni Morrison" on her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970. She picked up the nickname Toni in school (from her saints name, Anthony), and Morrison was the last name of her long-ago ex-husband:
"'Oh God! It sounds like some teenager - what is that?' She wheeze-laughs, theatrically sucks her teeth. 'But Chloe.' She grows expansive. 'That's a Greek name. People who call me Chloe are the people who know me best," she says. 'Chloe writes the books.' Toni Morrison does the tours, the interviews, the 'legacy and all of that.' Which she does easily enough, but at a distance, a drama-club alumna embodying a persona - and knowing all the while that it isn't really her. 'I still cant get to the Toni Morrison place yet.'"
This biography was last updated on 05/03/2012.
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An interview with Toni Morrison about her novel Paradise, followed by a video clip in which she talks about her 2008 novel, Mercy.
An Interview with Toni Morrison
Paradise is set in Oklahoma for historical reasons, yet its vast
open spaces and straight, endless roads are well-suited for the novel's themes
of isolation and exposure, and your descriptions of the landscape are moving and
evocative. What did you learn in your research about Oklahoma that you didn't
already know? Did you visit there? If so, what were your impressions of the
I have visited Oklahoma and was impressed by its natural beauty -- so unlike the "Grapes of Wrath" scenes. What I learned was the nature of the promise it held for African-Americans looking for safety and prosperity -- some highly successful stories and some failures.
The persecution of one community by another is, unfortunately, nothing new. But you approach this subject from an unusual perspective that originates in a somewhat forgotten moment in our nation's history: the black migration from east to west in the late 19th century. How did you arrive at this topic? What came first: the history or your message?
The migration was familiar, but its consequences...
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