African-American author, Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardella Wofford) was born in Ohio on the 18th of February 1931. Her pen name, Toni Morrison, came from her conversion to Catholicism aged 12, when she took the Baptismal name Anthony (after Saint Anthony) which led to her nickname, Toni.
Throughout her childhood, her parents instilled in her a sense of heritage and language, telling her traditional African folktales, ghost stories and singing songs to her. Morrison was also a prolific reader herself, among her favourite authors were Leo Tolstoy and Jane Austen, so it is no surprise Morrison later became a writer herself, exploring black experiences.
In 1949, Toni Morrison enrolled at Howard University, known for his historically black alumni. It is here that Morrison began writing fiction as part of a group of poets and writers who met up informally to discuss their work. In one particular meeting, Morrison attended with a short story about a black girl who longed to have blue eyes, the short story was later developed into Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, which she wrote while raising two children alone, waking at 4am every morning to complete it.
The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970 and although it didn’t sell well, The City University of New York added it to their reading list for their new black-studies department, and other colleges followed suit which aided the book’s sales. Morrison’s second novel Sula (1973) was nominated for the National Book Award but it wasn’t until her third novel, Song of Solomon (1977), which won the National Books Critics Circle Award, that Morrison gained national acclaim.
In 1987, Morrison published perhaps her best-known novel, Beloved, which was inspired by the true story of an enslaved African-American women, Margaret Garner whose history Morrison unearthed while she was compiling The Black Book. In 1988, Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Beloved and in 1993, she became the first-ever African American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her citation for the award reads, “Toni Morrison, “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”
Throughout her career, Morrison continued to gain critical acclaim being awarded countless prizes and honours for her contributions to literature including; the Norman Mailer Prize – Lifetime Achievement (2009), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012), and the PEN/ Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction (2016).
With great sadness, it has been confirmed by the Morrison family that the writer “passed away peacefully last night [5 August] surrounded by family and friends.” The 88-year-old was described in the family statement as a “Consummate writer who treasured the written word whether her own, her students, or others, she read voraciously and was most at home when writing.” The statement added, “Although her passing represents a tremendous loss, we are grateful she had a long well lived life”
The family now ask for privacy during this mournful period but also added that they will later share how they plan to celebrate Toni’s incredible life. Until then, as Morrison herself once said, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”