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On this day in 1931, a girl child was born in Lorain, Ohio, USA. She was given the name Chloe Anthony Wofford and nurtured by a family proud of its African-American heritage. They shared the love and appreciation of their culture with Chloe through storytelling and song. And as she grew, Chloe too learned how to give creative voice to the myriad dimensions of the African-American experience, in particular the black female experience. She is now known to us as Toni Morrison, and she is arguably the most celebrated and revered author in the world.
In December 2018, Toni Morrison received the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Fiction by The Center for Fiction, which declared her “a living genius of imaginative prose, of any kind, that has had a lasting impact on the culture…” This was just one in a long and ever-growing list of honors achieved by this novelist, essayist, editor, and professor of writing, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1988), Nobel Prize for Literature (1993), Coretta Scott King Award (2005), French Légion d’Honneur (2010), and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012).
Morrison has written long and short fiction for adults and children as well as plays, libretto, essays, and criticism. But central to all Morrison’s works is her focus on the experience of the ‘other’ — society’s marginalized — who struggle to the find themselves and their cultural identity amidst discrimination and oftentimes brutal injustice. She is concerned about how physical attributes are seen as privileges; about who, especially in the US, gets to belong; and about how borders have all too often become weapons of the state.
If you haven’t yet read anything by Toni Morrison, we recommend starting with her first book, THE BLUEST EYE (1970), about a victimized adolescent black girl who is obsessed by white standards of beauty. Then you must read BELOVED (1987), based on the true story of a runaway slave, Margaret Garner, who at the point of possible recapture kills her infant daughter in order to spare her a life enslaved.
Through her literary canon, Morrison makes plain that racism, tribalism, and bigotry are nothing new; that, indeed, they inherent to the broken foundation on which the USA was formed and built. But she also expresses hope that we humans can overcome our most basic, tragic flaws. She believes positively in the power of language to move us towards this more desirable end, stating, “As writers, what we do is remember. And to remember this world is to create it.”
Happy Birthday Toni Morrison, and thank you for all the gifts!
Who’s Your #HistoryHero?
Do you have a favorite author that’s enriched you life? Nominate him/her for the History Hero BLAST