One of America’s leading novelists, Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, the second of four children born to George Wofford (a shipyard welder), and Ramah Willis Wofford. Morrison’s academic ability showed early. When she was in the first grade she was the only black child in the class and the only one who could read. During her high school years, literature was her favorite subject, and the activity she most enjoyed was reading. She attended Howard University in Washington D.C., where she changed her name to Toni, an abbreviation of her middle name.
In 1953, Morrison graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. She received a Master of Arts degree in English from Cornell University in 1955, and from 1957 until the mid-1960s she taught English at Howard University. But she decided not to pursue a university teaching career; instead, in 1965 she took a position as associate editor at L.W. Singer Publishing Company, a subsidiary of Random House. In 1967, she became a senior editor at Random House, where she specialized in Black fiction. Three years later, her first novel, The Bluest Eye, with its penetrating and authoritative observations about African American life, was published. This was followed in 1974 by Sula, which was nominated for the National Book Award and established Morrison as a significant literary figure in the United States.
From 1975 to 1977 Morrison was a lecturer at Yale University. In 1977, her third novel, Song of Solomon, was awarded the Fiction Award of the National Book Critics’ Circle. Tar Baby, her fourth novel, was published in 1981.
In 1984, Morrison left Random House and became Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities at State University of New York, Albany. Three years later, she published Beloved, which explored the adverse effects of slavery on two central characters. The novel was a best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It is regarded as Morrison’s finest work. In 1998, Beloved was made into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.
In 1989, Morrison was appointed Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University. Her sixth novel, Jazz, followed in 1992 and in 1993, Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was only the eighth woman, and the first black woman, to receive this award. The Nobel Committee announced that Morrison, “in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."
Morrison’s seventh novel, Paradise, was published early in 1998. Her most recent novels are Love (2003), A Mercy (2009), and Home (2012).
Morrison married Harold Morrison, an architect, in 1958, and was divorced in 1964. The couple has two children, Harold Ford and Slade Kevin.