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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Toni Morrison is currently one of the most celebrated U.S. authors, having gained increasing attention since the publication of her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970. Her place in international arts and letters was firmly established after she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She has now been an important voice in American literature for nearly thirty years.
Toni Morrison was born as Chloe Wofford on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, near Cleveland. She was the second of four children of southern parents, George and Ramah, who had moved north to escape the racial discrimination of Georgia. Growing up in a culturally diverse neighborhood, she felt little racism. Although poor, her father had a regular job in the shipyards, and her mother stayed home to raise and nurture the children. She passed on to them strong religious values and her family's love of music. She also emphasized education, and Chloe was a good student. She attended Lorain High School and graduated at the top of her class. In 1949, she went to Washington D.C. to attend Howard University, where she studied the Classics and changed her name from Chloe to Toni. To help pay for Toni's education, her father worked three jobs. After graduation, she attended Cornell and received an M.A. in English. After teaching briefly at Texas Southern University in Houston, she returned to Howard University in 1957 to serve on its faculty for eight years. During this time, Toni married, had two sons, traveled in Europe, and divorced her husband. She also became a textbook editor for Random House, helped many African-American writers begin their publishing careers, and began her own writing career.
Besides being a popular novelist, Toni Morrison has won almost every major literary award and honor, including the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the Chianti Ruffino Antico Fattore International Award in Literature, and the Nobel Prize. She has also been recognized by numerous national and international literary organizations and served on several public commissions governing the arts and education. She has also been give fourteen honorary degrees.
In 1984, Toni left her publishing job to fully devote her time to writing and teaching. She has been part of the faculty of several universities, including Yale and Princeton. Her writing has been judged as an important contribution to the arts of our time. She has also been recognized as a brilliant commentator on social issues, especially those concerning racism, class structure, and sexism in America.