Morrison, Toni

Morrison, Toni, 1931–2019, American writer, b. Lorain, Ohio, as Chloe Ardelia (later Anthony) Wofford; B.A. Howard Univ., 1953, M.F.A. Cornell, 1955. Her fiction is noted for its poetic language, lush detail, emotional intensity, and sensitive observation of American life from African-American perspectives. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), is the story of a girl ruined by a racist society and its violence. Song of Solomon (1977; National Book Award) established her as one of America's leading novelists. It concerns a middle-class man who achieves self-knowledge through the discovery of his rural black heritage. Her later fiction includes Beloved (1987; Pulitzer Prize), a powerful account of mother love, murder, and the legacy of slavery; and Jazz (1992), a tale of love and murder set in Harlem in the 1920s. Her other novels are Sula (1973), Tar Baby (1981), Paradise (1997), Love (2003), A Mercy (2008), Home (2012), and God Help the Child (2015).

Among Morrison's other works are the essay collections Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power (1992), Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992), The Origin of Others (2017), essays on race, belonging, and literature, and The Source of Self-Regard (2019). She also wrote several children's books, including The Big Box (with her son, 2000); a play, Dreaming Emmett (1986); a song cycle, Honey and Me (1992), written with André Previn; an opera libretto, Margaret Garner (2003); and, with Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré, Desdemona (2011), a reinterpretation of Shakespeare's Othello. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, she was the first African-American woman to win the award. Morrison, who was an influential Random House editor for nearly two decades, was a professor at Princeton from 1989 (emeritus from 2006) and founded (1994) the Princeton Atelier, a writers' and performers' workshop.

See D. Taylor-Guthrie, ed., Conversations with Toni Morrison (1994) and C. Y. Denard, ed., Toni Morrison: Conversations (2008); studies by B. W. Jones (1985), A. I. Vinson (1985), N. Y. McKay, ed. (1988), H. Bloom (1990, repr. 2005), H. L. Gates, Jr., and K. A. Appiah, ed. (1993), P. Page (1995), N. J. Peterson, ed. (1997), L. Peach (1995 and, as ed., 1998), D. L. Middleton, ed. (2000), S. A. Stave, ed. (2006), J. L. Carlacio (2007), S. N. Mayberry (2007), J. L. J. Heinert (2008), L. V. D. Jennings (2008), R. Lister (2009), and K. Zauditu-Selassie (2009).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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