Author Study: Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison Biographical
Born Chloe Anthony Wofford, in 1931 in Lorain (Ohio), the second of four children in a black working-class family. Displayed an early interest in literature. Studied humanities at Howard and Cornell Universities, followed by an academic career at Texas Southern University, Howard University, Yale, and since 1989, a chair at Princeton University. She has also worked as an editor for Random House, a critic, and given numerous public lectures, specializing in African-American literature. She made her debut as a novelist in 1970, soon gaining the attention of both critics and a wider audience for her epic power, unerring ear for dialogue, and her poetically-charged and richly-expressive depictions of Black America. A member since 1981 of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she has been awarded a number of literary distinctions, among them the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.
From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1991-1995, Editor Sture Allén, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997
Morrison has written eleven novels and countless other essays, nonfiction books, plays, children’s fiction, and even a libretto. She was the 1993 winner of the Nobel Prize of Literature, and won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for Beloved. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2016, she received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. She is a novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, and a professor emeritus at Princeton University.
“YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING.”
AND OTHER WRITING ADVICE FROM TONI MORRISON
The Bluest Eye
Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in.Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.
Beloved is arguably Morrison’s most famous or classic book. It’s about the post-slavery life of Sethe, a mother who was a slave at a place called Sweet Home, about a baby named Beloved, and about a daughter named Denver. Morrison was inspired by the tale of Margaret Garner, a woman who killed her own daughter rather than allow her to be put back into slavery, and about the argument that ensued—the abolitionists wanted her hanged, because she was a person capable of murder, while the slave owners argued that she was only property, and so should be returned to her owner. She combined that tale with a vision of a woman on a tree stump that she saw one day from her window to write this tale of loss and longing.
In the winter of 1926, when everybody everywhere sees nothing but good things ahead, Joe Trace, middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, shoots his teenage lover to death. At the funeral, Joe’s wife, Violet, attacks the girl’s corpse. This passionate, profound story of love and obsession brings us back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of black urban life.
“They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time.” So begins Toni Morrison’s Paradise, which opens with a horrifying scene of mass violence and chronicles its genesis in an all-black small town in rural Oklahoma. Founded by the descendants of freed slaves and survivors in exodus from a hostile world, the patriarchal community of Ruby is built on righteousness, rigidly enforced moral law, and fear. But seventeen miles away, another group of exiles has gathered in a promised land of their own. And it is upon these women in flight from death and despair that nine male citizens of Ruby will lay their pain, their terror, and their murderous rage.
Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child is a searing tale about the way childhood trauma shapes and misshapes the life of the adult. At the centre: a woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life; but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love until she told a lie that ruined the life of an innocent woman, a lie whose reverberations refuse to diminish....
Booker, the man Bride loves and loses, whose core of anger was born in the wake of the childhood murder of his beloved brother ... Rain, the mysterious white child, who finds in Bride the only person she can talk to about the abuse she's suffered at the hands of her prostitute mother ... and Sweetness, Bride's mother, who takes a lifetime to understand that "what you do to children matters. And they might never forget."
* book synopses from amazon.ca
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