Toni Morrison

(1931 – 2019)

Toni MorrisonBiographical Sketch

Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford; Lorain, OH, USA, February 18, 1931 – New York, NY, USA, August 5, 2019), known as Toni Morrison, was a Nobel Prize-winning American novelist, essayist, book editor, and college professor. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon (1977) brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1988, Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved (1987); she gained worldwide recognition when she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.

Born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, Morrison graduated from Howard University in 1953 with a B.A. in English. In 1955, she earned a master’s degree in American Literature from Cornell University. In 1957 she returned to Howard University, was married, and had two children before divorcing in 1964. In the late 1960s, she became the first black female editor in fiction at Random House in New York City. In the 1970s and 1980s, she developed her own reputation as an author, and her perhaps most celebrated work, Beloved, was made into a 1998 film. Her works are praised for addressing the harsh consequences of racism in the United States.

In 1996, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected her for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. The very same year, she was honored with the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. On May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, she received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. In 2020, Morrison was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Read more about Toni Morrison on Wikipedia.


Major Awards and Honors

Nobel Prize in Literature
  • 1993
President of the United States
  • 2000: National Humanities Medal
  • 2012: Presidential Medal of Freedom
Library of Congress (USA)
  • 2011: Creative Achievement Award for Fiction
Pulitzer Prize (USA)
  • 1988: Fiction – “Beloved”
American Book Award
  • 1988: “Beloved”
National Book Critics Circle Awards (USA)
  • 1977: Fiction – “Song of Solomon”
  • 2014: Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award
American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (USA)
  • 1978: Arts and Letters Award in Literature
  • 2019: Gold Medal in Fiction / Literature
National Book Foundation (USA)
  • 1996: Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
National Endowment for the Humanities (USA)
  • 1996: Jefferson Lecture
American Academy of Achievement
  • 2005: Golden Plate Award
American Philosophical Society
  • 2018: Thomas Jefferson Medal
National Women’s Hall of Fame (USA)
  • 2020: Inductee
PEN America
  • 2013: PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award for Home
  • 2016: PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction
Norman Mailer Center (USA)
  • 2009: Norman Mailer Prize, Lifetime Achievement
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center
  • 1988: Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
Pearl Buck Foundation (USA)
  • 1994: Woman of the Year Award
Prof. Molefi Kete Asante
  • 2002: 100 Greatest African Americans – inclusion in list
Harvard University (USA)
  • 1989: Honorary Doctor of Letters
  • 2016: Charles Eliot Norton Professorship in Poetry (Norton Lectures)
Princeton University (USA)
  • 2013: Honorary Doctorate of Literature
Rutgers University (USA)
  • 2011: Honorary Doctor of Letters
University of Pennsylvania (USA)
  • 1988: Honorary Doctor of Laws
Pennsylvania State University, Institute for Arts and Humanities (USA)
  • 2010: Medal for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Humanities
Vanderbilt University (USA)
  • 2013: The Nichols-Chancellor’s Medal
Gustavus Adolphus College (USA)
  • 1997: Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters
University of Oxford (UK)
  • 2005: Honorary Doctorate of Letters
University of Geneva (Switzerland)
  • 2011: Honorary Doctorate of Letters
State of Ohio (USA)
  • 2020: Designation of February 18 as “Toni Morrison Day”
    – Toni Morrison’s birthday.
Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame
  • 1982: Inductee
Ohioana Library (USA)
  • 1975: Ohioana Book Award – “Sula”
  • 1988: Ohioana Career Medal
    – For contributions to education, literature, and the humanities.
Cleveland Foundation (USA)
  • 1988: Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Race Relations – “Beloved”
New Jersey Hall of Fame
  • 2008: Inductee
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (USA)
  • 1988: Frederic G. Melcher Book Award – “Beloved”
Tulsa Library Trust (USA)
  • 1988: Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award
MacDowell Colony (USA)
  • 2016: Edward MacDowell Medal
Légion d’Honneur (France)
  • 2010: Officier de la Légion
Order of Arts and Letters (France)
  • 1993: Commander of the Order
École Normale Superieure and College de France
  • 1994: Condorcet Medal and International Condorcet Chair
Circulo Culturale Rhegium Julii (Itay)
  • 1994: International Literature Award
American Academy in Rome
  • 2013: Writer in Residence



Novels and Novellas
  • The Bluest Eye (1970)
  • Sula (1973)
  • Song of Solomon (1977)
  • Tar Baby (1981)
  • Beloved (1987)
  • Jazz (1992)
  • Paradise (1997)
  • Love (2003)
  • A Mercy (2008)
  • Home (2012)
  • God Help the Child (2015)
Children’s Books

– Coauthored with Slade Morrison.

  • The Big Box (1999)
  • The Book of Mean People (2002)
  • Remember: The Journey to School Integration (2004)
  • Who’s Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper?, The Lion or the Mouse?, Poppy or the Snake? (2007)
  • Peeny Butter Fudge (2009)
  • Little Cloud and Lady Wind (2010)
  • Please, Louise (2014)
Short Stories
  • Recitatif (1983)
  • Sweetness
    – Published in The New Yorker, February 9, 2015.
Plays and Libretto
  • Dreaming Emmett (1986)
  • Margaret Garner (2005)
    – Libretto.
  • Desdemona (2011)
  • Five Poems (2002
    – Limited edition book with illustrations by Kara Walker.
  • Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality (1992)
    – Editor and foreword.
  • Introduction to the Oxford University Press edition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1996)
    – Editor: Shelley Fisher Fishkin.
  • Birth of a Nation’hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case (1997)
    – Co-editor.
  • Remember: The Journey to School Integration (2004)
  • Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (2007)
  • What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction (2008)
  • Burn This Book: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word (2009)
    – Editor.
  • Foreword to The Black Book (2009)
    – Eds.: Middleton A. Harris, Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, and Ernest Smith, Ernest.
  • The Origin of Others: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (2017)
  • Goodness and the Literary Imagination (2019)
    – Harvard Divinity School Ingersoll Lecture, with essays on Toni Morrison’s moral and religious vision; eds.: Davíd Carrasco, Stephanie Paulsell, and Mara Willard.
  • The Source of Self-Regard: Essays, Speeches, Meditations (2019)
    A/K/A Mouth Full of Blood: Essays, Speeches, Meditations


A Selection of Quotes

As cited in an ad for SAT in Chronicle of Higher Education (March 12, 2004):

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993

“Make up a story … For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.”

Interview with CBS radio host Don Swaim (September 15, 1987)

“Anger … it’s a paralyzing emotion … you can’t get anything done. People sort of think it’s an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling – I don’t think it’s any of that – it’s helpless … it’s absence of control – and I need all of my skills, all of the control, all of my powers … and anger doesn’t provide any of that – I have no use for it whatsoever.”

Conversation with Elizabeth Farnsworth (PBS NewsHour, March 9, 1998)

“All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.”

Song of Solomon

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”

“You can’t own a human being. You can’t lose what you don’t own. Suppose you did own him. Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you? You really want somebody like that? Somebody who falls apart when you walk out the door? You don’t, do you? And neither does he. You’re turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can’t value you more than you value yourself.”

“It’s a bad word, ‘belong.’ Especially when you put it with somebody you love … You can’t own a human being.”


“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”

“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.”

“Something that is loved is never lost.”

“In Ohio seasons are theatrical. Each one enters like a prima donna, convinced its performance is the reason the world has people in it.”


“When you gone to get married? You need to have some babies. It’ll settle you.’
‘I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.”

“The presence of evil was something to be first recognized, then dealt with, survived, outwitted, triumphed over.”

“She had been looking all along for a friend, and it took her a while to discover that a lover was not a comrade and could never be – for a woman. And that no one would ever be that version of herself which she sought to reach out to and touch with an ungloved hand. There was only her own mood and whim, and if that was all there was, she decided to turn the naked hand toward it, discover it and let others become as intimate with their own selves as she was.”

“Female freedom always means sexual freedom, even when—especially when—it is seen through the prism of economic freedom.”

“Don’t let your mouth start nothing your ass can’t stand.”

“Sula never competed; she simply helped others define themselves.”

“Maybe it hadn’t been a community, but it had been a place. Now there weren’t any places left, just separate houses with separate televisions and separate televisions and less and less dropping by.”

The Bluest Eye

“Lonely was much better than alone.”

“We mistook violence for passion, indolence for leisure, and thought recklessness was freedom.”

Find more quotes by Toni Morrison on Wikiquote and Goodreads.