Today we honor and celebrate a decorated writer and outspoken advocate of the targeted and oppressed. Toni Morrison is one of my favorite writers. Her passion and commitment to social justice shine through in every word she writes and speaks.
Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, OH in 1931, she developed an early love of stories. Her father told traditional African folk stories, a style she has adapted into her own work. She also fell in love with the writing of Jane Austen. (How could I NOT love her for that?) She took the name Toni from her baptismal name, Anthony, and Morrison from her (now ex-)husband.
Morrison got her BA from Howard and MA from Cornell, becoming and educator and editor. While working at Random House, she was instrumental in re-introducing black voices into the publisher’s catalog. She began writing fiction as part of an informal group of writers at Howard University. Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eye (One of my all time favorite novels) in 1970, launching a new career just as she turned 40.
Her work documents the tapestry that informs the African-American experience and — on a very deep level — our shared humanity. She demands that we look at the systems of oppression that have shaped American history. When speaking at the ceremony that awarded her the Frederic G. Melcher Book Award for Beloved, (A MUST READ) she noted that “there is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby” honoring the memory of the human beings forced into slavery and brought to the United States.”
Beloved, her most celebrated work, was published in 1987. It won the Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award and remains a much-read and much-loved novel. Her list of honors includes the Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contributions, the National Humanities Medal, the Pearl Buck Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, and many more. Toni Morrison was the first black woman to win a Nobel prize when she was awarded the Literature medal in 1993.
A celebrated writer, a brave spirit, and a strong voice for social justice — what an amazing woman and career! The United States will remain in her debt.