What Toni Morrison did... and why you should care
In 1931, a little girl named Chloe Wofford was born in Lorain, Ohio. Though her family was poor, her parents did not let their daughter lower her expectations, nor would they allow her to feel demeaned by the racism often directed at African-Americans like themselves. By the time she was a famous writer known by the name of Toni Morrison, she looked at racists as pathetic creatures to be pitied, not threats to her immense intellect. Because she has always refused to compromise, to settle or be silent, Toni Morrison's nine novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved, are triumphs of language and imagination. Her lyrical fiction has been recognized with the highest honors in the world, including the 1993 Nobel Prize.
Though her books are some of the greatest of the twentieth century - period - fans and critics alike have been hung up on Morrison's identity as a woman and an African-American. Apparently, it's still hard for some people to realize that the canon of great American authors can include people of - gasp! - different races and genders. She has been asked why she only writes about black people, even though no one seems to have ever asked James Joyce why he only wrote about white guys. Since people are always so quick to box her in as a Black Woman Writer, Morrison says, "I've decided to define that, rather than having it be defined for me."1
"I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and as a female person are greater than those of people who are neither. I really do," Morrison said in a comment that presaged the controversial comments of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and her praise of her fellow wise Latinas. "So it seems to me that my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger."2 That big world is evident to the legions of readers who have been entranced by her fiction.