US writer who in 1993 became the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Born in Lorain, Ohio, Toni Morrison was educated at the universities of Howard and Cornell. She then began to work as an editor for publishers Random House and has taught literature at several universities, in both of which capacities she has sought to promote marginalized African-American writers.
Morrison's own novels, which combine a rich vocabulary with stark descriptions of violence, explore the cultural and socio-economic pressures on African Americans. The Bluest Eye (1970) tells the story of a young Southern black girl, who develops a delusion that she has blue eyes, is raped by her father, and descends into madness. Sula (1973) explores the sense of alienation felt by two black girls growing up in the South of the 1920s and 1930s. The best-selling Song of Solomon (1977), which won the US National Book Critics' Circle Award, tells of black Northerners trying to trace their family history back through the era of slavery. Morrison's later novels include the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Beloved (1987; filmed 1998), which relates the story of a runaway slave in the nineteenth century who murders her children rather than suffer them returning to slavery, Jazz (1992), and Paradise (1998). She has also published a study of African Americans in US literature, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992).