In 1993, Toni Morrison became the first African-American woman to win which award?

And the answer: Nobel Prize.

Photo credit: Deborah Feingold/Corbis/Getty Images. 

Born in 1931 with the name Chloe Anthony Wofford, Toni Morrison was a critically acclaimed author whose works examined the Black experience in America. In 1988, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Beloved, and five years later she gained worldwide recognition when she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The life and legacy of Toni Morrison is impossible to encapsulate in just a few words. The profound effects of her writing are pervasive and powerful – her voice has irrevocably changed the course of American discourse. Morrison provokes the American cultural consciousness to confront the horrors of the past so that change might find its footing in the future.

Morrison, born Chloe Wofford, grew up in Lorain, Ohio, in the 1930s. She attended Howard University before earning her Masters degree from Cornell University. In 1967, as a single mother of two, Morrison got a job as a Senior Editor at Random House Publishing. Two years later, she released her first novel, The Bluest Eye. Written from a perspective in which the main character is forced to constantly compare herself to white standards of beauty, Morrison pointed to the urgency of unlearning cultural assumptions and norms assumed to be fact. Her next novel, Sula, won her a nomination for the National Book Award. In this novel, Morrison examines the effects of one Black woman's creative, unconventional rebellion with striking humor, complexity and heartbreak.

Song of Solomon won Morrison the National Book Critics' Circle Award, and brought her into the mainstream. In 1988, Morrison created the Nobel Prize-winning work Beloved. Exploring the psychological effects of slavery on the African-American mind (among many other complex themes), Beloved was the first eloquent, moving work in American literature to center around African-American life and experience. In 2006, the New York Times named Beloved the best work of American fiction of the past 25 years.

By placing Black female subjectivity at the center of her work, Morrison gave voice to many that had never before seen themselves in works of great literature. Morrison lives on in her body of work, many of which continue to be revered today. Learn more about Beloved below.


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