Toni Morrison, a novelist, short-story writer and also the award-winning author of 11 novels whose writing expressed the life of African American women, died August 5, 2019, at the age of 88 in New York due to complications from pneumonia. She was the first African American to win the Nobel Prize in the field of Literature in 1993. After five years of winning the Nobel Prize, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her world-famous book ‘Beloved’ which was inspired by a true story of an African American slave, Margaret Garner, who escaped slavery in Kentucky late January 1856 and also notorious or celebrated for killing her daughter rather than allowing the child to be returned to slavery.
Besides in 2000, Morrison received the National Humanities Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States of America from 2009 to 2017 who presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and wrote about Toni Morrison on August 6, 2019, on twitter as “ a national treasure, as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page. Her writing was a beautiful, meaningful challenge to our conscience and our moral imagination. What a gift to breathe the same air as her, if only for a while.” (https://twitter.com/barackobama/status/1158764847800213507)
Toni Morrison was born on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio with her original name Chloe Anthony Wofford. At the age of 12, she became Catholic and chose the name Anthony, after St. Anthony of Padua as her confirmation name. After that Anthony became her middle name and was shortened by family members to Toni. While studying at Howard University in Washington where she found that some people had a hard time pronouncing her birth name Chloe. In 1958, after she married Harold Morrison, her last name was changed. The couple had two sons and were divorced seven years after they married. However, she showed her desires for fiction writing and she became a textbook editor after her divorce.
Beyond Beloved, Morrison’s other novels were: The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981), Jazz (1992), Paradise (1997), Mercy (2008), Home (2012), and God Help the Child (2015). She also wrote several essays and children’s books.
Her novels deal with various themes including dehumanization through slavery, the destruction of identity under slavery, the importance of community solidarity, and many more. Through her novels, she used the color red, the tin tobacco box, the tree, and others as symbols. In the art of characterization, she is unique to any other writer in English literature. Her characters illustrated the true nature of human life. Indeed, she makes the reader aware of the psychological and physical damage done to the African people due to American slavery. Memories in Morrison were generally scarring although they can be visible or invisible.
Toni Morrison said in 1993, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
Md. Jubel Miah, BA (Hon’s) in English MC College, Sylhet