Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford; February 18, 1931) is an American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and Beloved. She also was commissioned to write the libretto for a new opera, Margaret Garner, first performed in 2005. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved and the Nobel Prize in 1993. On 29 May 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, to Ramah (née Willis) and George Wofford. She is the second of four children in a working-class family. As a child, Morrison read fervently; among her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. Morrison’s father told her numerous folktales of the black community (a method of storytelling that would later work its way into Morrison’s writings). According to a 2012 interview in The Guardian, she became a Catholic at age 12 and received the baptismal name “Anthony”, which later became the basis for her nickname “Toni”.
In 1949 Morrison entered Howard University, where she received a B.A. in English in 1953. She earned a Master of Arts degree in English from Cornell University in 1955, for which she wrote a thesis on suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. After graduation, Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas (1955–57), then returned to Howard to teach English. She became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
In 1958 she married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect and fellow faculty member at Howard University. They had two children, Harold and Slade, and divorced in 1964. After the divorce she moved to Syracuse, New York, where she worked as a textbook editor. A year and a half later, she went to work as an editor at the New York City headquarters of Random House. She also taught at Yale University and Bard College during these years. As an editor, Morrison played a vital role in bringing black literature into the mainstream, editing books by authors such as Henry Dumas, Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, and Gayl Jones.