Toni Morrison is a famous Afro-American writer. Her nationality makes her exclusive among contemporary writers. Her real name is Cloy Anthony Jofford. She was born on the 10th of February in 1931 in the town of Lorain (state Ohio). She was born in a religious family of workers. Toni was the second child in her family and had three sisters. She studied humanitarian sciences at Harvard and Cornell universities during the years of 1955 – 1964. Despite all hardships she faced in her life she somehow managed to make a prominent academic career in a short period of time. After graduating from university she worked as a teacher in the University of Texas.
In 1956 Toni Morrison returned to Harvard University. And here she met an architect from Jamaica H.Morrison, her future husband. They married and had 2 sons.
But in 1964 after seven years of living together they divorced. In autumn of the same year she got the position of editor’s helper in the publishing house “Random house” in Syracuse (New York), dealing with study literature. There she worked for quite a long period of time. In 1967 she became a senior editor and moved to New York.
Her work as an editor was very efficient. Toni Morrison edited books of famous Afro-Americans (Mohammed Ali, Andrew Young, Angela Davis etc.). At the same time she managed to send the manuscript of her first novel “The Bluest Eyes” to different publishing houses. This novel actually originated from a simple literary seminar prepared in Harvard University. It depicts tragic influence of interracial prejudices on a young negro-girl, dreaming about having blue eyes — American ideal of beauty. Morrison’s colorful prose brought her international recognition and world fame. She considers world of negro-Americans from different sides. In “The Bluest Eyes” Morrison tells a story about Pecola Breadlove, who manages to survive in spite of cruel and insulting treatment from her father’s side. Pecola believes that her black eyes would somehow turn blue and that she will be beloved. Morrison said that this novel was written as an attempt to find her “ego” and strengthen herself as a writer. She admits that she used to play a role of each hero in her book.
Published in 1970 the novel was warmly met by critics. Toni Morrison continued to work for “Random house”, but she simultaneously she got the position of an English teacher in the New York University. There she worked during the years of 1971 – 1972. Exactly at this period of time she started to write her well-known novel “Sula”, published in 1972.
The book tells about relations between two women, one of whom in the course of the time accepts strict moral norms of her Negro society, another one chose to reject them. This novel appeared to be in the list of bestsellers and in 1973 it was even nominated for a National Book Prize. Extracts from this book were published by many magazines including a famous one called “Redbook”.
In 1976-1977 Morrison was invited to Yeil University as a lector according to an agreement. There she worked on her novel “Song of Solomon, 1977. The novel is based on a folklore plot of spiritual journey. The main hero, whose great-grandfather managed to get rid of slavery, leaves native home and sets out in search of hidden family treasures. This finally turns into reconstruction of family tree. The book was awarded by National Prize of literary critics and American academy.
Folk tradition became a basis to another novel “Tar Baby”, 1981.
In 1983 Morrison decided to leave her work at the publishing house. And later in 1984 she became a professor and got a chair at the department of Albert Schweitzer in the New York University in the city of Albany.
Published in 1987 her novel “Beloved” gained the prize of Pulitzer and later (1993) Nobel Prize for literary work. She was actually the first Afro-American writer to get such a high prize. In this novel Morrison returns to the topic of slavery, and shows its destructive influence on motherly feelings. The act takes place in the state of Ohio after the Civil war. Following the example of many American writers Morrison created her novel according to a well-known criminal case — a story of a Negro-slave Margaret Garner. In 1856 together with her husband and little children she escaped from the farm in Kentucky, sailed cross the river and moved to a state where slavery was already abolished. But her master found his runaway slave and was going to take his property back. However Margaret grasped a kitchen-knife and preferred to kill her two-year old daughter rather than send her to slavery. Mother didn’t want her daughter to experience all torments and hardships of slavery. Garner was however prevented from murdering other children and possibly committing a suicide. Later she was accused for damage of property. There was only one word written on her grave “Beloved”. Child spirit settled in mother’s house. Some of the heroes submitted such circumstances. Others left the house. Once the heroine offered her mother-in-law to move to another house, but she rejected. She explained that there is probably no house in the whole America where you wouldn’t feel sorrows of dead Negroes. She even thought they were lucky to have just a baby playing the master.
American film-director Jonathan Damm, famous for producing “Silence of Lambs” directed a film on the basis of Morrison’s novel, with Oprah Winfrey starring. In 1998 the film was nominated for “Oscar” and claimed to get the highest prize. The book was admitted to be the best creation of Morrison and became her first bestseller. In 2003 an opera was created on the basis of the novel “Beloved”.
Other works are “Jazz” (1922), “Paradise” (1998), “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination” (1992), based on the lections at Harvard university. She also wrote children books such as “The Big Box” (2000) and “The Book of Mean People” (2001).
In 1989 Morrison was invited to the department of Robert Goen at Princeton University. Morrison was honored with lots of prizes, including a National medal for considerable contribution into American literature.
Professor Eliot wrote: “Toni Morrison not only created an extraordinary context of complicated novels, but also to some extent changed American literary history of XX century”.
Morrison takes an active part in Feministic Movement, speaking at Negro congresses. Mass Media often citate her speeches in front of the audience, especially the most prominent one, pronounced 10 years ago at the celebration of Harvard University’s anniversary. Morrison’s speech began with the University’s significant role, but then she turned to racism and fascism, calling them Siamese twins.
Morrison’s works were translated into many languages, particularly into Italian, French, Norway, Japanese etc. Her creative work and biography were included into several monographies.
Toni Morrison is considered to be classical writer in American literature. Her works are characterized by deep plot, raising serious problems concerning Afro-American population of the USA. Her works can’t be ranked among books for easy reading. However they are popular all over the world. One of her most outstanding novels “Love” was published in 2003. It is admitted to be a captivating research on love: its passion, sacrifice, egoism, along with hatred. Heroes are obsessed with love force, but their beloved don’t appear in the novel itself. They exist only in the memory. Action takes place in the state of Ohio on a forgotten resort, which was once very popular.
Main heroes of Morrison’s books are negro-women, but for all that writer doesn’t reckon her works among feminine prose.
It goes without saying that Toni Morrison wasn’t the first to dare writing on painful topic of Negro slavery. Also she was hardly the first to write about such awful things as cruel treatment, sexual rape, no rights of Negroes. But her doubtless merit lies in the fact that she was first writer to show real events about slaves in a literary form.
Morrison considers her novels from two points of view. On the one hand they are completed works of art, and on the other hand they contain political elements. He admits that she is not interested in writing according to her own imagination; she thinks that works should be political to some extent.
Nowadays Morrison’s stories are appreciated in different corners of the world. Her biography and literary career is being studied in schools and universities. It is important to know about her and to read her novels not simply because she is a classic writer. The reason lies in the plots of her writings, problems which were considered by her. People are interested in her literary work because she vividly described historic events in America, concerning slavery. She played a considerable role in American literature.
Newspaper correspondents write about Morrison as a common person, but being at the height of her fame as a truthful writer. Morrison’s literary theme was rarely written about. It may be connected with the fact that Americans try to forget about such an unpleasant period in the history. But Toni Morrison dares to write about it. Just like European writers can’t help saying about important events like World War II or Holocaust, Morrison tries to analyze reasons of racism in civilized society. She raised problems about cruelty among people, unjust and unfair treatment of Afro-Americans. Study of her works helps to understand causes and results of slavery better. That’s why it is highly recommended for students and researchers. It is also intended for common readers who are interested in American history and want to learn more about it. Such literature is precious because not many writers dared to raise such a topic, especially at hard times of slavery.
1. Anniina Jokinen Toni Morrison, 1996-2006 http://www.luminarium.org/contemporary/tonimorrison/toni.htm
2. The Nobel Foundation, 1993 Toni Morrison – biography http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1993/morrison-bio.html
3. About, Inc. About Toni Morrison, 2006 http://womenshistory.about.com/library/bio/blbio_morrison_toni.htm
4. Yemisi Jimoh “Toni Morrison”, Literary Encyclopedia, 2002
5. Cindy Hatcher “Toni Morrison: A Voice With Wings”, 2003