10 Fascinating Facts About Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize Winner

Toni Morrison, born Chloe Ardelia Wofford (1931 – 2019), was an American novelist, editor, essayist,  and professor. Widely remembered for her work and achievements, there’s much more about her eventful life that many readers may not be aware of. We’ll explore 10 fascinating facts about Toni Morrison that may give you a glimpse at what shaped her to become the woman and writer that we’ve come to know and love. 

She was born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, in a working-class African-American family that influenced her love and passion for black culture as she grew up hearing folktales, songs, and storytelling. 

Her work spoke to many as it was focused on the black American experience and the struggles that they face. After the creation of the notable works including The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1974), Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981),  and Beloved (1987), she received an abundance of awards, including the Nobel Prize in Literature (1993), the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many more. 

. . . . . . . . . .

25 Wise Quotes by Toni Morrison on Writing and Living
. . . . . . . . . .

Her love for literature started as a child 

Morrison’s parents instilled a sense of heritage and language through folktales, ghost stories, and songs traditional to the African-American heritage. As a result, she developed a love for literature and read frequently as a child. She had many favorite authors, including Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. 

 

Her childhood influenced her style of writing 

Morrison started her writing career as an undergrad with a workshop at Howard University. Growing up, Morrison says that her family was “intimate with the supernatural” and that they frequently used visions and signs to predict the future. 

Morrison’s parents made storytelling an important part of their household and was filled with storytelling among the children and the adults. As a result of her childhood, she felt that her writing was influenced by the storytelling in her past.

 

‘Toni’ was actually a nickname 

At the age of 12, Morrison became a Catholic and took on the baptismal name Anthony after Anthony of Padua. Years later when Morrison was a student at Howard University, people had a hard time pronouncing the name Chloe. From then on, she started going by her nickname, Toni, to avoid any further confusion with pronunciation.

 

She didn’t believe she was a good mother 

Morrison married Harold Morrison, an architect she met while studying at Howard University. They had two children but divorced in 1964, leaving her to care for two kids alone. She often felt as though she was not a good mother because she wanted to focus on her writing. “I did it ad hoc, like any working mother does,” she said.

She developed a habit of waking up at four in the morning to write, which led to the completion of her first novel, The Bluest Eye. Here is a recording of a 2015 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, in which she spoke about the regrets she carried about her personal life.

. . . . . . . . . .

toni morrison
Learn more about Toni Morrison
. . . . . . . . . .

She never remarried after her first husband 

Though she has never discussed the reason for her divorce, she hinted in the past that he wanted a more subservient wife. She said “he didn’t need me making judgments about him, which I did. A lot.” She never remarried after they parted ways. 

 

Her father witnessed a lynching

Morrison’s father grew up in Cartersville, Georgia. At the age of 15, he witnessed white people lynching two black businessmen who lived on his street. Soon after the lynching, her father moved to Lorain, Ohio, a racially integrated town, in hopes of escaping racism and gain better employment in Ohio’s industrial economy rather than sharecropping. 

Upon speaking of her father’s experience with the lynching, Morrison said “He never told us that he’d seen bodies. But he had seen them. And that was too traumatic, I think, for him.” 

 

She was one of the first black editors at Random House

In 1965, Morrison started working as a fiction editor at Random House in Syracuse, New York and was among one of the very few black editors at the company. Few knew much about her extracurricular writing activities until she published The Bluest Eye in 1973. 

After the publication of her book, Morrison said others at Random House “read the review in The New York Times.” She then said that “it got a really horrible review in The New York Times Book Review on Sunday, and then it got a very good Daily Review,” making her work known to a wider audience. 

. . . . . . . . . .

Morrison receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993

. . . . . . . . . .

She was the first African-American recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. She made history as the first African-American woman to receive the honorary prize. It was awarded to Morrison, “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” 

When giving her Nobel speech, she used the power of storytelling to talk about a blind old black woman who is approached by a group of young people. They ask her, “Is there no context for our lives? No song, no literature,  no poem full of vitamins, no history connected to experience that you can pass along to help us start strong?” Morrison then says, “Think of our lives and tell us your particularized world. Make up a story.”

 

A house fire damaged some of her manuscripts

The same year she was awarded the Nobel Prize (1993), Morrison’s home caught on fire in Grandview, N.Y. According to the Nyack Fire Department Chief Paul Wanamaker, about one hundred and twenty firefighters from two towns responded to a fire that was burning down an old four-story Colonial house. When Morrison went to inspect the damage, Wanamaker said that some of her manuscripts had gotten destroyed in the fire but had no further details. 

 

She was the first African-American to hold a named chair at an Ivy League University 

Among her other significant firsts, Morrison was also was the first to hold a named chair at an Ivy League University. In 1987, she was named the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of Humanities at Princeton University in New Jersey. 

. . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . .

Skyler Isabella Gomez is a 2019 SUNY New Paltz graduate with a degree in Public Relations and a minor in Black Studies. Her passions include connecting more with her Latin roots by researching and writing about legendary Latina authors. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to The Literary Ladies Guide weekly newsletter

Celebrating women’s voices
with inspiration for readers and writers

  • Find your next great read
  • Get writing advice from authors you love
  • Enjoy fascinating facts and quotes
  • Discover women’s literary history

... and lots more (look for a bonus in your welcome letter!)
Email address
Secure and Spam free...