Several of her novels have taken their place in the canon of American literature, including The Bluest Eye, Beloved (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction), and Song of Solomon. Morrison's writings are notable for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African American characters. In recent years, Morrison has published a number of children's books with her son, Slade Morrison.
Morrison was born as Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. Morrison was the second of four children in a working-class American family. As a child, Morrison read constantly (among her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy). Morrison's father, George Wofford, a welder by trade, told her numerous folktales of the black community (a method of storytelling that would later work its way into Morrison's writings).
In 1949 Morrison entered Howard University to study humanities. While there she changed her name from "Chloe" to "Toni," explaining that people found "Chloe" too difficult to pronounce. Her name "Toni" comes from her middle name, Anthony. Morrison received a B.A. in English from Howard in 1953, then earned a Master of Arts degree from Cornell University in 1955.
After graduation, Morrison became an English instructor at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas (from 1955-57) then returned to Howard to teach English. In 1958 she married Howard Morrison. They had two children and divorced in 1964. After the divorce she moved to Syracuse, New York, where she worked as a textbook editor. Eighteen months later she went to work as an editor at the New York City headquarters of Random House.
As an editor, Morrison played an important role in bringing African American literature into the mainstream. She edited books by such black authors as Toni Cade Bambara and Gayl Jones. She also taught English at two branches of the State University of New York. In 1984 she was appointed to an Albert Schweitzer chair at the University at Albany, The State University of New York. Currently, Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor of Humanities at Princeton University, a position she has held since 1989. Though based in the Creative Writing Program, Morrison does not regularly offer writing workshops to students, a fact that has earned her some criticism. Rather, she has conceived and developed the prestigious Princeton Atelier, a program that brings together talented students with critically acclaimed, world-famous artists. Together the students and the artists produce works of art that are presented to the public after a semester of collaboration. In her position at Princeton, Morrison uses her insights to encourage not merely new and emerging writers, but artists who are constantly trying to develop new forms of art through interdisciplinary play and cooperation.In May 2006, the Princeton student newspaper reported that Morrison was retiring from her post at Princeton after over 17 years of loyal instruction. The school confirmed the report a day later.
That same day, the New York Times Book Review named her novel Beloved the best novel of the past 25 years.