Remembering Toni Morrison

Looking back on the work of a literary genius.

Date

08/08/19

Toni Morrison was an award-winning author, professor, and speaker. Morrison earned her Bachelor's Degree from Howard University and her Master's Degree from Cornell University. Toni Morrison did not publish her first novel until she was thirty-nine years old, but the following almost-fifty years were marked by stunning success, international notoriety, and a position in classic literature that often cannot be reached in one's own lifetime, let alone as an African American woman. Toni Morrison's writing rapidly became quintessential for those who both sought out a greater understanding of the African American experience, and those who simply valued talented writing. In her 88 years, Toni Morrison achieved unprecedented prosperity.

Toni Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970 and did not receive much notoriety for the work. African American Studies departments at some colleges and universities publicized the novel as a new work in the field, and soon her work caught the attention of a publisher. Over the following decade, Morrison's career as an author began to flourish. She was honored with a variety of national awards, including the Barnard Medal of Distinction from Barnard College, the college's highest honor.

Morrison devoted most of her time to writing. Living in New York, she taught English at two different branches of the State University of New York, and at Rutgers' New Brunswick campus. Morrison's first play, Dreaming Emmett, was performed at the State University of New York at Albany in 1986. The next year marked a turning point in Morrison's career. The publication of Beloved gave Morrison critical acclaim and twenty-five weeks as a bestseller. In 1988, Morrison became a Pulitzer Prize winner and in 1989 she received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Harvard University. Beloved was the first in a trilogy and was made into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey ten years later.

Toni Morrison wrote eleven novels, two plays, nine non-fiction publications, poems, essays, children's books, and much more. She was awarded additional honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from Oxford, Princeton, Rutgers, and the University of Geneva. Morrison was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Library of Congress Achievement Award, the National Humanities Medal, a Noble Peace Prize, and a Grammy nomination.

Toni Morrison lived a life of triumph despite the many forces that worked to oppose her. She wrote with the purpose of altering the narrative of history by positioning her work next to that of the works of "Faulkner, Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain," according to A. O. Scott.

Toni Morrison passed away at 88 years old on August 5, 2019. She is survived by her son, Harold Ford Morrison.