The volume of critical and popular acclaim that has arisen around the work of Toni Morrison is virtually unparalleled in modern letters. Her six major novels—The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Sula, Tar Baby, Beloved, and Jazz—have collected nearly every major literary prize. Morrison received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977 for Song of Solomon. In 1987, Beloved was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Her body of work was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993. Other major awards include: the 1996 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the Pearl Buck Award (1994), the title of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (Paris, 1994), and 1978 Distinguished Writer Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
After receiving her B.A. from Howard University in 1953, Toni Morrison continued on to Cornell to pursue graduate work in English. There, she completed a thesis on the theme of suicide in the works of Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. Masters Degree in Hand, Toni returned to Howard University where she took a position teaching English, and where she met and married Jamaican architect Harold Morrison. The couple had two sons before their marriage crumbled. Morrison found solace from the unhappy union in a small group of poets and writers who met informally to discuss their work. It was in this setting that her creative instincts began to stir. A short story she "dashed off" about a little black girl who wanted blue eyes would be her first completed literary work, and the seed of her first novel, The Bluest Eye.
Morrison was appointed Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University in the spring of 1989. Before coming to Princeton, she held teaching posts at Yale University, Bard College, and Rutgers University. In 1990 she delivered the Clark lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Massey Lectures at Harvard University. Morrison was also a senior editor at Random House for 20 years.
A host of colleges and universities have given honorary degrees to Morrison. Among them are Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Sarah Lawrence College, Dartmouth, Yale, Georgetown, Columbia University and Brown University. Toni Morrison was commissioned by Carnegie Hall in 1992 to write lyrics "Honey and Me", an original piece of music by Andre Previn. The lyrics were sung in performance by Kathleen Battle. In 1997, she wrote the lyrics for "Sweet Talk", which was written by Richard Danielpour and performed in concert by Jessye Norman. Morrison lives in Princeton, New Jersey and upstate New York.
Toni Morrison has earned a reputation as a gifted storyteller whose troubled characters seek to find themselves and their cultural riches in a society that warps or impedes such essential growth. According to Charles Larson in the Chicago Tribune "Book World", each of Morrison's novels "is as original as anything that has appeared in our literature in the last 20 years. The contemporaneity that unites them — the troubling persistence of racism in America — is infused with an urgency that only a black writer can have about our society."
Toni Morrison on Winning the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature
"I am outrageously happy. I heard the news early this morning from a colleague here at Princeton, and I am of course profoundly honored. But what is most wonderful for me, personally, is to know that the Prize at last has been awarded to an African-American. Winning as an American is very special-but winning as a Black American is a knockout. Most important, my mother is alive to share this delight with me."