Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931 and spent the first years of her life in Ohio. She received an undergraduate degree in English from Howard University and completed a master’s program at Cornell. When many of her classmates had difficulty pronouncing her uncommon first name, she changed it to Toni (a derivative of her middle name). In 1958, she married Harold Morrison, an architect from Jamaica, and the couple had two sons. They divorced six years later. After pursuing an academic career teaching English at Howard, Morrison became an editor at Random House, where she specialized in Black fiction.
At the same time, she began building a body of creative work that, in 1993, would make her the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, was not an immediate success, but she continued to write. Sula, which appeared in 1973, was more successful, earning a nomination for the National Book Award. In 1977, Song of Solomon launched Morrison’s national reputation, winning her the National Book Critics’ Circle Award. Her most well-known work, Beloved, appeared in 1987 and won the Pulitzer Prize. Her other novels include Tar Baby (1981), Jazz (1992), and Paradise (1998). Meanwhile, Morrison returned to teaching and was a professor at Yale and the State University of New York at Albany. Today, she is the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of Humanities at Princeton University, where she teaches creative writing. In 1993, Morrison became the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature.
Morrison once said that she wanted to help create a canon of Black work, noting that Black writers too often have to pander to a white audience when they should be able to concentrate on the business of writing instead. Many readers believe Morrison’s novels go a long way toward the establishment of her envisioned tradition. The poetic, elegant style of her writing in Beloved panders to no one. Morrison challenges and requires the reader to accept her on her own terms.