A master of storytelling, Toni Morrison was the first Black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and legendary professor is known for the vivid black characters brought to life in her novels that recreate the Black experience. Morrison’s novels often illuminate themes of slavery, racism, and identity, but also shine with hope for the future. In her first-ever political endorsement, Morrison wrote of a “national evolution” in a letter that publicly endorsed Barack Obama. As an educator and author, Morrison used her authority and standing as a Black pioneer to lay the groundwork for the presidency of Barack Obama.
Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford, in Lorain, Ohio, on February 18, 1931. An avid reader and learned storyteller, she graduated from high school with honors. In 1953 Morrison received her Bachelors in English from Howard University and then earned her Masters from Cornell. Morrison soon became an English professor at Texas Southern University in Houston. She later returned to Howard to teach English.
In 1970 Morrison wrote her first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” about a little Black girl that dreamed every night of waking up with blue eyes. Seven years later, she gained national acclaim with her third novel, “Song of Solomon.” It was the first novel by a black writer to be selected for the Book-of-the-Month Club since Richard Wright’s Native Son in 1940.
She wrote a play, “Dreaming Emmett,” based on the true story of Emmett Till, an African-American teenager brutally killed by racist whites after allegedly whistling at a white woman in the South. It premiered January 4, 1986. In 1988, Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel, “Beloved,” which was adapted for film by Oprah Winfrey. In 2006, The New York Times Book Review named “Beloved” the best American novel published in the past 25 years.
Morrison taught within the State University of New York system and held the Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities at Princeton University from 1989 until 2006. Morrison authored nine novels, the most recent being “A Mercy.” She continues to exemplify brilliance in creative writing and sets the bar with her multilayered narrative.
Perhaps the most interesting political moment in Morrison’s career came when she called Bill Clinton “our first Black president.” But in 2008, Morrison backpedaled from that assertion, saying that Clinton was “Black” only in the sense that he had been treated that way. If there was any question of Morrison’s true feelings, it was answered by Morrison’s spurning of Hillary Clinton in favor of Barack Obama.