Toni Morrison

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Toni Morrison, 1998

Toni Morrison (actually Chloe Ardelia Wofford ; born February 18, 1931 in Lorain , Ohio ; † August 5, 2019 in New York City ) was an American writer . She is one of the most important representatives of Afro-American literature and was the first African-American author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature .

Live and act

Early years

Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio ; the parents were Ramah (nee Willis) and George Wofford. She was the second of four children in an African American working class family. Her mother was born in Greenville, Alabama and moved north with her family as a child. Her father grew up in Cartersville , Georgia , and when he was about 15 years old, white people lyned two black businessmen who lived on his street. Toni Morrison said, “He never told us he saw bodies. But he had seen her. And that was too traumatic for him. ”Shortly after this incident, George Wofford moved to the racially integrated city of Lorain, Ohio, hoping to escape racism and secure a job in Ohio's burgeoning industrial economy. He worked independently and as a welder for US Steel . Ramah Wofford was a housewife and devout member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church .

When Morrison was around two years old, her family's landlord set fire to the house they lived in while they were at home because their parents could not pay the rent. Her family responded to this "bizarre form of evil" by laughing at the landlord instead of desperate. Morrison later said that her family's response showed how to maintain one's integrity and sustain one's life in the face of acts of such "monumental rawness".

Morrison's parents taught her a sense of heritage and language by telling traditional African American folk tales, ghost stories and singing songs. Morrison also read frequently as a child; her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy . At the age of 12 she became a Catholic and took the baptismal name Anthony (after Anthony of Padua ), which led to her nickname Toni. At Lorain High School , she was on the debating team, yearbook staff, and theater club.

Studies and employment

In 1949 she began to study English at Howard University in Washington, DC , a "black university" . During this time she changed her nickname from Chloe to Toni (after her middle name Anthony , which she had adopted when she was twelve in the course of her conversion to Catholicism .)

1953 she received the Bachelor of Arts in English and in 1955 at the Cornell University the Master of Arts . From 1955 to 1957 she taught English literature at Texas Southern University in Houston . In 1957 she returned to Howard University as a lecturer. In 1958 she married the Jamaican architect Howard Morrison, with whom she had two sons. After her divorce in 1964, she started working as a publishing editor . During her sixteen years at Random House (1967 to 1983) she played an important role in establishing Afro-American literature and published books by Toni Cade Bambara and Gail Jones , among others .

1970 seemed to her a few years earlier incurred first novel The Bluest Eye ( The Bluest Eye ) . Both this work and Sula (1974) were well received by the critics, but the success with the audience was not achieved until the Song of Solomon (Solomon's song) in 1977. Her books have been translated into several languages ​​and are mostly about the world of black women.

She had resumed teaching while working at Random House. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1981, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1988, and the American Philosophical Society in 1994. In 1989 she was appointed professor of humanities and held a chair at Princeton University until her retirement in 2006 .

Toni Morrison died on August 5, 2019 at the age of 88.

Awards and honors

In addition to the Nobel Prize for Literature, she was also awarded the Pulitzer Prize (1988) and the Premio Grinzane Cavour Special Prize (2001), among others . In 2010, Morrison was accepted as a knight in the French Legion of Honor . In 2012 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2016 the PEN / Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction .



  • The Bluest Eye , 1970 (German very blue eyes , 1979, translated by Susanna Rademacher ) describes the decline of the Breedlove family from different perspectives. The first-person narrator, one of several voices, is a ten-year-old girl who is fascinated by the somewhat older Pecola Breedlove without really understanding her fate. The title refers to Pecola's idea that everything would be fine if only she had blue eyes. Since 1998 the title has been removed from the curriculum in several states in the United States; the language is hurtful and violent, the book is sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, contains controversial issues .
  • Sula , 1973 (German 1980, translated by Karin Polz) is like The Bluest Eye a rather narrow novel. It tells the story of the Black Quarter of a small town in the Midwest. After several years of absence, the eponymous Sula serves as a kind of moral negative film for its residents in the last years of her life. You actually learn more about the development of her friend Nel, who survived her by several decades, than about herself. In the end, Nel breaks through the artificial antagonism (which always left her on the "good" side) when she realizes What a strong bond the girl friendship between Sula and her represented.
  • Song of Solomon , 1977 (German Solomons Lied , 1979, translated by Angela Praesent ) tells the story of an Afro-American family over several generations. The protagonist Macon Dead III, called Milkman, digs deeper and deeper into the past in search of treasure. The living family members are involuntarily involved in a secret organization that practices vigilante justice for murders committed by whites of blacks. The book, which can also be read as an educational novel, was recognized by the National Book Critics' Circle and the American Academy and Institute of Letters . Tony Morrison received the National Book Award for this . The use of the book has been banned by various local school boards in the United States since 1993 .
  • Tar Baby , 1981 ( Eng . Teerbaby , 1983, translated by Uli Aumüller and Uta Goridis): The title alludes to the story of the tar baby, a doll made of tar, which, as inanimate, does not return a rabbit's greeting. This angered it so much that it kicked tar baby. Of course it gets stuck and the more it tries to break free, the more it gets caught. This story, brought to the United States by slaves from West Africa, suddenly takes on racist undertones. Toni Morrison sees the expression “tar baby” primarily as a symbol for the black woman who can hold things together (interview with Karin L. Badt 1995). - Several times Jadine, 25, a new art historian and one of the first successful black models, feels harassed or exposed in actual or imagined encounters with women who contradict their own image of women. And in the middle of the novel, she falls into a swamp that appears to contain tarry substances, but can break free. But the symbolism behind it is not further elaborated. Instead, the novel describes with the means of a real book (a mysterious escape right at the beginning, a fictional remote Caribbean island as the main plot, next to New York and Paris, rich and impoverished unhappy people, the great love) antagonistic conflicts that people cause are exposed to their social conditions and expectations in their closest relationships. There are a few individuals who have to wonder what constitutes their identity and whether they are acting authentically, and they ultimately find individualistic solutions.
  • Beloved , 1987 (German human child , 1989, translated by Helga Pfetsch) is loosely based on the story of Margaret Garner who, like the fictional character Sethe, killed one of her children to save them from a life of slavery. The novel illuminates the psychological consequences of slavery in an impressive way. In a complex web of (suppressed) memories, realistic and fantastic present-day events, a part of history is reconstructed that previously seemed neither worth telling nor telling - due to the prevailing balance of power on the one hand, and psychological barriers on the other. Here Morrison mixes European and African or African-American narrative traditions in a way that is typical for her. In 1988 she received the Pulitzer Prize for the novel ; the book was one of the finalists for the National Book Award 1987. Later, Morrison wrote the libretto for the opera Margaret Garner, which premiered in 2005 .
  • Jazz , New York 1992 (German Reinbek 1993, translated by Helga Pfetsch) plays during the heyday of jazz in Harlem in the 1920s with flashbacks to the time shortly after the final abolition of slavery. Almost all the people involved live in the city in the first generation. Their origins are marked by poverty, loss and disruption, but in the 1920s things seem to be looking up for African Americans in Harlem; you feel safe here. The ambiguity of black jazz with its mixture of anger, sadness, hope and temptation and the multiple repetitions of the opening theme - a woman whose husband shot an 18-year-old in a mania for love wants to cut the face of the deceased at the funeral - determine the pace and the Atmosphere of the book in which there are only ambivalent emotions like in the strange friendship between the wife of the perpetrator and the adoptive mother of the dead.
  • Paradise , 1998 (Eng. Paradies , 1999, translated by Thomas Piltz) contrasts the social optimism at the beginning of the 1970s with the rigid adherence to traditions in a place that emerged from a small Afro-American settler group. The strict rules there, based on the fear of God and the striving for “blood purity”, are explained by history, but are no longer undisputed. Women from different parts of the USA who more or less accidentally come across a nearby monastery on their individual escape and settle there must appear to the patriarchal forces as a threat and will be destroyed by them. But death does not have the last word. The novel has a strong, poetic and reflective spirituality.
  • Love , 2003 (German love , 2004, translated by Thomas Piltz) is about patriarchal power and goodness, betrayal, desire, loss of innocence. The fulcrum of the narrated events, the memories and longings of most of the fictional characters is a hotel and its owner, who bought it during the Depression of the 1930s and made it a successful, myth-shrouded holiday paradise for African Americans.
  • A Mercy , 2008 (German grace , 2010, translated by Thomas Piltz) shows the complexity of the problem of slavery at the end of the 17th century. An act of grace that seems to be a way out of the slave's position, which is considered unworthy, does not bring the hoped-for redemption. Although North America provided the setting for the narrative before independence, general human problems are shown which show the individual the limits of influencing the life story of others.
  • Home , 2012 (German Homecoming , 2014, translated by Thomas Piltz) portrays America in the 1950s with the help of veteran Frank Money, who returns to Lotus, Georgia, to protect his sister.
  • God Help the Child , 2014 (German: Gott, hilf dem Kind , 2017, translated by Thomas Piltz) tells the life of the black Lula Ann and their struggle with an America marked by racial conflicts.

Other literary genres

  • Short story: Recitatif , published in Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women , 1983
  • Drama: Dreaming Emmet , performed in 1986, unpublished
  • Libretto: Margaret Garner , premiered in 2005
  • Children's books (together with her son Slade):
    • The Big Box , 1999 ( Die Kinderkiste , 2000, translated by Thomas Piltz)
    • The Book of Mean People , 2002 ( The Book of Evil , 2005, translated by Harry Rowohlt )
    • Who's Got Game? The Lion or the Mouse? , 2003
    • Who's Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper? , 2003
    • Who's Got Game? Poppy or the Snake? , 2004

Other publications (selection)

  • Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination , 1992 ( Playing in the Dark: White Culture and Literary Imagination , 1994, translated by Helga Pfetsch and Barbara von Bechtolsheim )
  • Co-editor of Birth of a Nationhood , Essays on Representation and Perception of the OJ Simpson Process, 1996
  • Editor of Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power , 1992, on the case of Anita Hill v Clarence Thomas , which was about sexual harassment and which attracted a lot of public attention because of its political implications.
  • Lectures (Harvard University, Summer 2016): The Origin of Others. On race, racism and literature (The Origin of Others, 2016) , German 2018 (translated by Thomas Piltz)
  • Self-esteem. Selected essays . Translated by Thomas Piltz, Nikolaus Stingl, Dirk van Gunsteren, Christa Schuenke, Christiane Buchner, Christine Richter-Nilsson. Rowohlt, Hamburg 2020, ISBN 3-499-50651-3



  • Michael Basseler: Cultural Memory and Trauma in the Contemporary Afro-American Novel. Theoretical foundation, forms of expression, development tendencies , Wissenschaftsverlag Trier 2008. ISBN 978-3-86821-013-2
  • Barbara von Bechtolsheim : Whoever surrenders to the air can ride it. In: Charlotte Kerner (ed.): Madame Curie and her sisters - women who received the Nobel Prize. Beltz, Weinheim 1997, ISBN 3-407-80845-3 .
  • Barbara Hill Rigney: The Voices of Toni Morrison . Ohio State University Press, Columbus OH 1991. ISBN 0-8142-0554-2 ( digitized version on the publisher's pages in full access)
  • Julia Roth: "Mute, meaningless, frozen white". Dealing with Toni Morrison's essays in a white German context. In: Maureen Maisha Eggers, Grada Kilomba , Peggy Piesche and Susan Arndt (eds.): Myths, masks and subjects. Critical whiteness research in Germany. Münster 2005, ISBN 3-89771-440-X .
  • Heidi Thomann Tewarson : Toni Morrison . Rowohlt, Reinbek 2005, ISBN 3-499-50651-3
  • Linda Wagner-Martin: Toni Morrison: a literary life , Basingstoke [u. a.]: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, ISBN 978-1-137-44669-5

Web links

Commons : Toni Morrison  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Nobel laureate Toni Morrison passes away at 88. In: wtap. August 6, 2019, accessed on August 6, 2019 .
  2. a b On the death of Toni Morrisson - With an alert look, full of humanity. Retrieved on August 6, 2019 (German).
  3. ^ Claudia Dreifus: Chloe Wofford Talks About Toni Morrison . In: The New York Times , September 11, 1994. Retrieved June 11, 2007. 
  4. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah: The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison . In: The New York Times , April 8, 2015. Retrieved April 29, 2017. 
  5. ^ A b c How Toni Morrison Fostered a Generation of Black Writers . October 27, 2003. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  6. ^ David Streitfeld: The Laureates's Life Song . In: The Washington Post , October 8, 1993. Retrieved April 29, 2017. 
  7. ^ "Tony Morrison". Contemporary Popular Writers . Ed. Dave Mote. Detroit: St. James Press, 1997. ISBN 978-1558622166 .
  8. Emma Brockes: Toni Morrison: 'I want to feel what I feel. Even if it's not happiness' . In: The Guardian , April 13, 2012. Retrieved February 14, 2013. 
  9. Lucille P. Fultz: Toni Morrison: Paradise, Love, A Mercy. New York 2013, p. 4. ISBN 978-1441119681
  10. Member History: Chloe Anthony (Toni) Morrison. American Philosophical Society, accessed February 4, 2019 (with biographical notes).
  11. Der Standard : Toni Morrison is a Knight of the French Legion of Honor , November 4, 2010
  12. The White House: President Obama Names Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients (April 26, 2012, accessed May 30, 2012)
  13. Top 10 Most Challenged Books Lists on
  14. Summary: [1]
  15. Review Auf Gnade & Ingnade .... leads into the dull 17th century BC. Layla Dawson , in Konkret (Zeitschrift) # 1, 2011, p. 61