Profile of Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize Winning Novelist

Biography and Bibliography

Toni Morrison, 1979
Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Known for: first African American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature (1993); writer and educator.

In her novels, Toni Morrison focuses on the experience of black Americans, particularly emphasizing black women's experience in an unjust society and the search for cultural identity. She uses fantasy and mythic elements along with realistic depictions of racial, gender and class conflict.

Dates: February 18, 1931 -

Early Life and Education

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, where she was the only African American student in her first-grade class. She attended Howard University (B.A.) and Cornell University (M.A.).


After college, where she changed her first name to Toni, Toni Morrison taught at Texas Southern University, Howard University, State University of New York at Albany and at Princeton. Her students at Howard included Stokely Carmichael (of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC) and Claude Brown (author of Manchild in the Promised Land, 1965).

Writing Career

She married Harold Morrison in 1958, and divorced him in 1964, moving with their two sons to Lorain, Ohio, and then to New York where she went to work as a senior editor at Random House. She also began sending her own novel to publishers.

Her first novel was published in 1970, The Bluest Eye. Teaching at the State University of New York at Purchase in 1971 and 1972, she wrote her second novel, Sula, published in 1973.

Toni Morrison taught at Yale in 1976 and 1977 while working on her next novel, Song of Solomon, published in 1977. This brought her more critical and popular attention, including a number of awards and an appointment to the National Council on the Arts. Tar Baby was published in 1981, the same year Morrison became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Toni Morrison's play, Dreaming Emmett, based on the lynching of Emmett Till, premiered in Albany in 1986. Her novel Beloved was published in in 1987 and won the fiction Pulitzer Prize. In 1987, Toni Morrison was appointed to a chair at Princeton University, the first African American woman writer to hold a named chair at any of the Ivy League universities.

Toni Morrison published Jazz in 1992 and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. Paradise was published in 1998 and Love in 2003. Beloved was made into a film in 1998 starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.

After 1999, Toni Morrison also published a number of children's books with her son, Slade Morrison, and from 1992, lyrics for music by Andre Previn and Richard Danielpour.

Also known as: born Chloe Anthony Wofford

Background, Family:

  • Father: George Wofford (shipyard welder)
  • Mother: Ramah Willis Wofford

Marriage, Children:

  • husband: Harold Morrison (married 1958, divorced 1964; architect)
  • children: Harold Ford, Slade Kevin

Selected Toni Morrison Quotations

• Tell us what it is to be a woman so that we may know what it is to be a man. What moves at the margin. What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company. (Nobel Lecture, 1993)

• The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.

• I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and as a female person are greater than those of people who are neither.... So it seems to me that my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger.

• When I write, I don't translate for white readers....

Dostoevski wrote for a Russian audience, but we're able to read him. If I'm specific, and I don't overexplain, then anyone can overhear me.

• When there is pain, there are no words. All pain is the same.

• If there is a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. (speech)

• What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not? (from Song of Solomon)

• I think women dwell quite a bit on the duress under which they work, on how hard it is just to do it at all. We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I'm not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for all that. (from Newsweek interview, 1981)

• If you're going to hold someone down you're going to have to hold on by the other end of the chain. You are confined by your own repression.

• There is really nothing more to say -- except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how. (from The Bluest Eye)

• Birth, life, and death -- each took place on the hidden side of a leaf.

• Beloved, you are my sister, you are my daughter, you are my face; you are me.

• I'm a Midwesterner, and everyone in Ohio is excited. I'm also a New Yorker, and a New Jerseyan, and an American, plus I'm an African-American, and a woman. I know it seems like I'm spreading like algae when I put it this way, but I'd like to think of the prize being distributed to these regions and nations and races. (Nobel Lecture, 1993)

• In Tar Baby, the classic concept of the individual with a solid, coherent identity is eschewed for a model of identity which sees the individual as a kaleidoscope of heterogeneous impulses and desires, constructed from multiple forms of interaction with the world as a play of difference that cannot be completely comprehended.

Toni Morrison Books


Original publication dates: The Bluest Eye 1970, Sula 1973, Song of Solomon 1977, Tar Baby 1981, Beloved 1987, Jazz 1992, Paradise 1998.

  • Beloved. 1998 reprint.
    • Plasa, Carl. Toni Morrison: Beloved. Columbia Critical Guides. 1999.
    • Andrews, William L. and Nellie Y. McKay, editors. Toni Morrison's Beloved: A Casebook. 1999.
  • The Bluest Eye. 2001.
    • James, Rosetta and Louisa S. Nye. The Bluest Eye and Sula: Notes. Cliffs Notes. 1997.
  • Jazz. 1993 reprint.
  • Paradise. Oprah's Book Club Edition.
    • Reames, Kelly Lynch. Tony Morrison's Paradise: A Reader's Guide. 2001.
  • Song of Solomon. 1987 reissue.
    • Washington, Durthy A. Song of Solomon. Cliffs Notes. Ages 9-12.
    • Ciabattari, Nancy A. MAXnotes for Song of Solomon. 1996.
  • Sula. 1989 reissue.
    • James, Rosetta and Louisa S. Nye. The Bluest Eye and Sula: Notes. CliffNotes. 1997.
  • Tar Baby. 1990 reissue.
  • The Collected Novels of Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz.

More by Toni Morrison:

  • Morrison, Toni. The Nobel Lecture in Literature, 1993. Audio Cassette.
  • Morrison, Toni. Toni Morrison : Lecture and Speech of Acceptance, upon the Award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Delivered in Stockholm on the Seventh of December. 1994.
  • Morrison, Tony. Conversations With Toni Morrison. 1994.

About Toni Morrison: Biographies, Criticism, etc.:

  • Andrews, William L. and Nellie Y. McKay, editors. Toni Morrison's Beloved: A Casebook. 1999.
  • Bloom, Harold. Toni Morrison. Bloom's Major Novelist series. 1999.
  • Bouson, J. Brooks. Quiet As It's Kept: Shame, Trauma and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison. 2000.
  • David, Ron. Toni Morrison Explained: A Reader's Road Map to the Novels. 2000.
  • Grewal, Gurleen. Circles of Sorrow, Lines of Struggle: The Novels of Toni Morrison. 2000.
  • Kolmerton, Carol A., Stephen M. Ross and Judith Bryant Wittenberg, editors. Unflinching Gaze: Morrison and Faulkner Re-Envisioned. 1997.
  • McKay, Nellie Y. and Kathryn Earle, editors. Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison. 1997.
  • Middleton, David L., editor. Toni Morrison's Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. 1999.
  • Page, Philip. Dangerous Freedom: Fusion and Fragmentation in Toni Morrison's Novels. 1996.
  • Peach, Linden, editor. Toni Morrison: Contemporary Critical Essays. 1998.
  • Peterson, Nancy J. Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches. 1997.
  • Plasa, Carl, editor. Toni Morrison: Beloved. Columbia Critical Guides. 1999.
  • Reyes-Conner, Marc Cameron, editor. The Aesthetics of Toni Morrison: Speaking the Unspeakable. 2000.
  • Samuels, Robert. Writing Prejudices: The Psychoanalysis and Pedagogy of Discrimination from Shakespeare to Toni Morrison. 2001.