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Jazz | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Toni Morrison | Biography


Toni Morrison was born Chloe Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, on February 18, 1931, during the Great Depression. She took the name Anthony at her baptism, which led to the nickname Toni. Morrison's father, George Wofford, moved north from Georgia as part of the Great Migration (a mass migration of African Americans from the South to the North and West in the 20th century) and worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. When Morrison was two years old, a landlord tried to evict the family because they couldn't afford rent; he set fire to the house with the Woffords inside when they refused to leave. Morrison heard this story often in a household where everyone told stories and spoke of their dreams "with the same authority that they talked about what 'really happened.'" A childhood of stories, music, hardship, and family ties undergirds Morrison's novels.

Morrison learned to read early and excelled in school, devouring novels and plays. After graduating from Howard University in 1953 with a degree in English literature, she earned a master's degree at Cornell University and taught English at Texas Southern University for a time.

Morrison entered the publishing field not as a writer but as an editor, assisting other African American novelists such as Gayl Jones and Toni Cade Bambara. She published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970, to promising reviews. Morrison's stories are rooted in an African American style of storytelling, a "back-and-forth conversation between the storyteller and the audience." In her novels, plays, and librettos, Morrison explores the African American experience in lyrical language. In Jazz she expresses "the proud hopelessness of love mourned and championed in blues music" and infused by the "irresistible energy" of jazz.

Morrison is the recipient of many awards, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

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