At 88, Toni Morrison Personifies the Strength of Black Womanhood

 Toni Morrison/Granta
Toni Morrison/Granta

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent

Black Girl Magic, Black Girls Rock, and other slogans have surfaced in recent years to describe the power, resilience and steadiness of the Black woman. But, 88 years ago, a legend was born who would eventually embody the spirit and definition of strength of Black womanhood: Toni Morrison.

“Being, a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination; it expands it,” Morrison famously said.

With each masterful stroke of her pen, typewriter or (later) her computer keyboard, Morrison kept readers of her works and listeners of her words spellbound. “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives,” she once said.

This week, this month and likely throughout Women’s History Month in March, Morrison will undoubtedly be talked about. Her words will flood social media and other platforms, and somewhere a young Black girl will be inspired.

Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, on February 18, 1931, Morrison earned a B.A. in English from Howard University in 1953 and a Master of Arts from Cornell University in 1955. 

She later taught at Howard for seven years.

In 1958, while she was teaching at Howard, she married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect and the couple had two sons before they divorced in 1964.

In 1988, Morrison won the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel, Beloved, which was later adapted for a film starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.

Her first novel was The Bluest Eye in 1970. Other celebrated novels include Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Jazz, Paradise, and God Help the Child.

The first Black woman to ever be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Grammy Award, Morrison’s list of accolades are nearly endless.

Some of those awards include:

• 1977: National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon

• 1977: American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award

• 1987–88: Robert F. Kennedy Book Award

• 1988: Helmerich Award

• 1988: American Book Award for Beloved

• 1988: Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Race Relations for Beloved

• 1988: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Beloved

• 1988: Frederic G. Melcher Book Award for Beloved.   

• 1989: MLA Commonwealth Award in Literature

• 1989: Honorary Doctor of Letters at Harvard University

• 1993: Nobel Prize for Literature

• 1993: Commander of the Arts and Letters, Paris

• 1994: Condorcet Medal, Paris

• 1994: Rhegium Julii Prize for Literature

• 1996: Jefferson Lecture

• 1996: National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

• 2000: National Humanities Medal

• 2002: 100 Greatest African Americans, list by Molefi Kete Asante

• 2005: Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Oxford University

• 2008: New Jersey Hall of Fame inductee

• 2009: Norman Mailer Prize, Lifetime Achievement

• 2010: Officier de la Légion d’Honneur

• 2011: Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for Fiction

• 2011: Honorary Doctor of Letters at Rutgers University Graduation Commencement

• 2011: Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Geneva

• 2012: Presidential Medal of Freedom

• 2013: The Nichols-Chancellor’s Medal awarded by Vanderbilt University

• 2014 Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award given by the National Book Critics Circle

• 2016 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction

• 2016 The Charles Eliot Norton Professorship in Poetry (The Norton Lectures), Harvard University

• 2016 The Edward MacDowell Medal, awarded by The MacDowell Colony

“At the wisdom-age of 88, the creative courage and genius of Sister Leader Toni Morrison continues to awaken the consciousness of millions of people in America and throughout the world,” said National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.

“Morrison personifies what it means to be a long-distance freedom-fighting author. The NNPA salutes and wishes Toni Morrison a happy birthday,” Chavis said.