Born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1993, Toni Morrison became the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature after publishing her novel, Jazz, a year before. Her first novel in 1970, The Bluest Eye, was inspired by a childhood encounter with a fellow classmate who wished for blue eyes in a culture that denounced people of color. The era of “black is beautiful” unnerved Morrison who said, “I’m not a stereotype. I’m not somebody else’s version of who I am. And so when people said at that time black is beautiful–yeah, of course. Who said it wasn’t? So I was trying to say, in The Bluest Eye, wait a minute guys. There was a time when black wasn’t beautiful. And you hurt.”
Initial prejudice of being born a certain race and gender conflicted with the writer’s work that it changed into “less of a novel than a sociopolitical statement.” However, Morrison’s identity as an African-American woman growing up in Lorain, Ohio, did not cause her to feel any less important than her White peers.
In school, a young Italian boy called Morrison an “Ethiopian,” but she was not impressed upon discovering that Ethiopia was a country in Africa.
“He obviously thought it was a great insult,” said Morrison.
Morrison published various books throughout her writing career, but her novel titled Beloved in 1987 won the fiction Pulitzer Prize. In the same year, she was appointed to a chair at Princeton University.
Toni Morrison describes her name as a projection of her “other self”–an African-American female writer who is recognized by her signature silver dreadlocks and mass of literature accolades. More importantly, she says, “My name is Chloe,” claiming that very close friends call the writer by her birth name.
Although Morrison’s self remains split, she chooses to be headstrong in her work. From the beginning of her career, Morrison decided to write how and what she felt as opposed to what she was expected to write as an African-American woman trying to “explain black life to a white audience.” Toni Morrison believes in writing within her experience as a self-assured black woman, not an outsider or innocent bystander.
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