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Remembering Nobel Laureate and Beloved Literary Icon, Toni Morrison

Remembering Nobel Laureate and Beloved Literary Icon, Toni Morrison

The incomparable Toni Morrison has passed away. She was 88 years old. 

Morrison was a beloved and celebrated novelist, essayist, editor, teacher and Professor emeritus at Princeton University. She passed away Monday night, according to the media outlet Vulture.

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18,1931 in Lorain, Ohio, Morrison was the second oldest of four children, born to her parents Ramah and George Wofford. She displayed an interest in storytelling early as a result of all the folklore and tales she grew up hearing in her family. She went on to study at Howard University and graduated in 1953, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. While at Howard, she decided to change her name to Toni, since people at school had a hard time pronouncing her birth name. She went on to receive her master’s degree in English from Cornell University in 1955. She married Harold Morrison in 1958, an architect from Jamaica, and gave birth to two sons, Harold Ford Morrison in 1961 and Slade Kevin Morrison in 1964. The couple divorced after six years of marriage. She had a long teaching career, serving as a professor at several universities including Texas Southern University, Howard, Yale, and Princeton, where she taught up until 2006. 

Photo courtesy of BBC

Morrison is known for her poetic writings which all center exclusively around African American life. Her first book, The Bluest Eye, is about the constructs of perceived beauty in society for Black girls, and is still receiving notoriety over 30 years later. She has received a litany of accolades and awards including a National Book Award (Sula, 1974) National Book Critics Circle Award (Song of Solomon, 1977), and a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988 for her best-selling and critically acclaimed novel Beloved. She was the first Black woman across the nation to receive the literary honor.

Beyond a doubt, Morrison had an uncanny ability to shine a light on Black life in a way that was magical and surreal. She was able to bring life to characters in a way that made the reader listen, all while discussing themes of colorism, racism, misogyny, slavery and more. She amassed a body of work by the late 1980s that rivals most literary authors to this day. Her last book, God Help The Child, was published in 2015. 

Morrison said writing was her place of freedom, "I know how to write forever. I don't think I could have happily stayed here in the world if I didn't not have a way of thinking about it, which is what writing is for me. It's control. Nobody tells me what to do. It's mine, it’s free.”

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She was the first Black woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1993. She received the National Arts and Humanities Award in 2001. In 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, the highest U.S. honor for a civilian. In 2017, we reported that Princeton renamed one of their most distinguished facilities after the literary icon. 

In her 2012 book, Home, Morrison wrote, “Death is a sure thing but life is just as certain.”

Thank you for living a full life, one of purpose and intention, one that made us all better. Because of you, Ms. Toni Morrison, we can.