Chloe Ardelia Wofford was born 18 February 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. (She earned the nickname "Toni" in college and took Morrison as her married name; to keep this from getting too confusing, we're going to refer to her as "Toni Morrison" from here on out.) She was the second of four children born to George Wofford, a welder who played the violin at home, and Ramah Willis Wofford, a domestic worker with an ear for jazz and opera.
Lorain was an unassuming, predominantly African-American town. The Morrison family, like most of Lorain's residents, were poor. George and Ramah Wofford refused to allow this to have any bearing on their children. "The world back then didn't expect much from a little black girl, but my father and mother certainly did,"4 Morrison later recalled. With her parents' encouragement, Morrison was a voracious reader from an early age, and always thrilled about the arrival of new books in the house.
Her parents emphasized the importance of education and of taking pride in one's work. "I felt like an aristocrat -- or what I think an aristocrat is. I always knew we were very poor. But that was never degrading," Morrison later said of her childhood. "I remember a very important lesson that my father gave me when I was 12 or 13. He said, 'You know, today I welded a perfect seam and I signed my name to it.' And I said, 'But, Daddy, no one's going to see it!' And he said, 'Yeah, but I know it's there.'"5