Toni Morrison did not pursue a dream of writing, as so many authors do; on the contrary, Morrison sort of fell into it by accident. "I never wanted to be a writer," she said in an interview for the New York Times Book Review. "(But) I drifted into a writer's group while teaching." The rest, as they say, is history.
Born Chloe Anthony Wofford, Toni Morrison was raised just outside Cleveland in Lorain, Ohio. Her parents -- George, a ship-welder, and Ramah -- were well educated and raised their children in a similar fashion. Morrison's parents shared inspirational and folkloric stories of black history with their children, and also instilled in them a great love of reading.
Morrison graduated with honors from Lorain High School and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in English from Howard University; during college, she got tired of people saying her name wrong, and changed it to Toni.
Morrison went on to earn a master's degree in English from Cornell University; upon graduating, she taught English -- first at Texas Southern University, then back at Howard in 1957. When she returned to Howard, Morrison "met and married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architectural student." She also joined a writer's group on a whim, and ended up writing the first draft of what would eventually become her first novel. "I wrote a little story about a black girl who wanted blue eyes. It was written hurriedly and probably not very well, but…some liked it."
Morrison did not pick the story up again until several years later, when her life had changed drastically. She and Harold had two young sons but could not make their marriage work; after a painful divorce, she and the boys moved briefly back to Lorain (where they lived with Morrison's parents), then on to Syracuse, where Morrison took an editing job; she also finally resumed work on the story from her writer's group. It grew from short story into novel and was submitted to numerous publishers before one finally accepted it. The Bluest Eye was published in 1970.
Though her first novel was a critical success, Morrison continued her career in publishing; in the late 1960s, she took a "senior editorial position at Random House in New York City" and began freelance writing as well. In 1973, she published her second novel, Sula.
Just after her father's death, Morrison began writing her third novel, Song of Solomon; it won the 1978 national Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. After that, she published Tar Baby, another popular work. By the time Morrison's fifth novel, Beloved -- based on a newspaper article she read while editing a volume of Black American history -- was published, many critics believed Morrison was not being properly recognized as one of the country's most prominent writers. That belief, paired with the fact that the critically acclaimed Beloved won no major awards, prompted nearly fifty "prominent black writers and critics" to publish a signed "tribute to her achievements in the New York Times Book Review on January 24, 1988." Whether in response to the tribute or not, Morrison received the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved later that same year.
In 1992, she published her sixth novel, Jazz; one year later, Toni Morrison became the first African American, the only American woman, and the eighth woman ever to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Since the 1990s, she has been teaching at Princeton University, editing and encouraging up-and-coming black authors and writing; in 1998, she published her seventh novel, Paradise.
Despite the constant challenges of ever-changing life, Morrison finds the strength to write from deep within: "Yes, life can be complicated; it can be virtually unlivable. But you can use your mind to learn, to change things and to think things through…thinking and learning are what we are born for."