How does one write about Toni Morrison using ordinary words?
Toni Morrison has won nearly every book prize awarded and in 2006 The New York Times Book Review named her novel Beloved, the best novel in the previous 25 years. She is a renowned author but also an influential teacher.
Morrison credits her parents, a welder and domestic worker, for instilling in her a love of reading and music. She knew the classics by reading great works of European literature and studying Latin when she was young. Her favorite authors were Tolstoy, Dostoyevski, Flaubert and Austen, but her aspiration was to become a ballerina like her idol, Maria Tallchief. She graduated from high school, in an integrated neighborhood, with honors.
At Howard University she joined a repertory company and toured the South, seeing for the first time the life of others with the same skin color as her own. She graduated with a degree in English and a minor in classics. At Cornell she wrote her Master’s thesis on Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner.
After completing her education she taught English at Texas Southern University and later returned to her alma mater, Howard. There she joined a writer’s group on campus and began her first novel.
When she became a single mother, she moved with her sons to Syracuse, New York and worked as an editor for Random House. She edited books by Muhammad Ali, Andrew Young, and Angela Davis and later moved to New York as associate editor.
Her first novel, Bluest Eye, was not a big seller but her next book, Sula, was nominated for the American Book Award. Song of Solomon, which followed, was a featured selection in the Book-of-the Month Club. In the early 1980’s she was appointed to the National Council on the Arts, became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine. In the late 1980’s she was given a chair in the Council of Humanities at Princeton University, the first black woman to hold a named chair at an Ivy League University.
She was already well known, but it was her novel Beloved that skyrocketed her into another fame’s rare atmosphere. The novel earned her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. Five years later she received a Nobel Prize for Literature, once again the first black woman to break a barrier.
As an author she wrote novels and children’s books. She explored the play format and wrote lyrics for “Four Songs” in collaboration with composer André Previn. She also wrote lyrics for composer Richard Danielpour and a libretto for the American opera Margaret Garner. She has written non-fiction and won a Grammy for a spoken word album.
As a teacher, she established the Princeton Atelier, a workshop for writers and performers, and only retired from her professorship at Princeton in the last decade. She also teaches by editing the work of other writers.
One of her passions is protecting art from censorship. Her fervor, as well as her poetic language, is evident in her views on this topic:
“The thought that leads me to contemplate with dread the erasure of other voices, of unwritten novels, poems whispered or swallowed for fear of being overheard by the wrong people, outlawed languages flourishing underground, essayists’ questions challenging authority never being posed, unstaged plays, canceled films—that thought is a nightmare. As though a whole universe is being described in invisible ink.”
Toni Morrison Society: http://www.tonimorrisonsociety.org/society.html
Written biography and video: http://www.biography.com/people/toni-morrison-9415590?page=1
There are a number of biographies about Toni Morrison. Danielle K. Taylor-Guthrie has also written Conversations with Toni Morrison.
You can also view the film Beloved, starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover
QUESTION OF THE WEEK:
Were there teachers in your life who inspired you to pursue your goals?