Toni Morrison was born on February 18th, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio. Lorain is a steel town on Lake Erie near Cleveland. Morrison was named Chloe Anthony Wofford by her parents, George Wofford and Ramah Willis Wofford. George moved his family from Kentucky, in the south, to Ohio because of the state's racism and poverty. Growing up, Morrison digested stories and tales of black life during the Reconstruction era in the south. She realized that whatever she did in her life would be easy, in comparison.
Morrison was brought up in a nurturing, religious environment surrounded by black women who served as a safety net against the racism she experienced. The tradition of the underground railroad and heroic stories of rescues of black slaves from the south fed her young mind. She excelled in high school even though she grew up in an educational system that ignored the contributions of nonwhites. She graduated at the top of her class.
She attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. where she changed her first name from Chloe to Toni. She graduated and did her graduate work in American literature at Cornell University. In 1957, Morrison taught Humanities and English at Texas Southern University, then worked at Howard University, as an English Instructor, for eight years.
In 1966, she joined a literary symposium and began writing. She contributed stories she had written in high school. From 1965 to 1983, Morrison worked as a textbook editor at Random House. In 1967 she was transferred to New York as senior editor where she edited many books by famous blacks such as Mohammed Ali, Andrew Young and Angela Davis.
She was divorced and, in addition to her job, she raised two small children.
While she was working as an editor at Random House, she was also sending her own book out to publishing houses. In 1970, The Bluest Eye was published.
The following year she returned to teaching, serving as the chair of Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities of the State University of New York (Purchase) while living in a boathouse in Nyack and working on her book, Sula.
In 1974, she wrote The Black Book, a memory album of three centuries of black history. Bill Crosby wrote the introduction. During the next decade Morrison served as a visiting lecturer at Yale University where she finished her book, The Song of Solomon (1977). The book was awarded the 1978 Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and in 1996 it went to the top of the bestsellers list nationwide when it was recommended on Oprah Winfrey's show.
Later, Morrison published Tar Baby, followed by Beloved in 1987. Beloved won her Pulitzer Prize; it had been on the bestseller list for 18 weeks. Later that year, fourteen honorary degrees were awarded to Morrison, and she was named as the Tanner Lecturer at the University of Michigan.
In the fall of 1989 she left Albany to accept the Robert F. Goheen Professorship in creative writing, women's studies and African studies at Princeton University. She was the first black woman to be honored at an Ivy League university. In 1992, she published Jazz as well as Playing in the Dark (1992). She was also the editor of Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power (1992). Morrison also published The Dancing Mind (1996) and Paradise (1997).
In 1993, Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature for her body of work.