Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison, was a novelist, essayist, book editor, and college professor. Morrison broke barriers; she was the first Black woman to become senior fiction editor for Random House and the first Black woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

In 1967, Morrison began at Random House, where she played a vital role in bringing Black literature into the mainstream. During this period Morrison began writing fiction informally. She recalled her parents instilling a great sense of heritage and language throughout her childhood, often telling traditional African-American folktales, ghost stories, and songs. These early influences are evident in her fiction novels, which focus on the vivid portrayals of the Black female experience. Her first novel, published in 1970, The Bluest Eye, was inspired by a short story about a Black girl who longed to have blue eyes. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1988, Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved. In 1998, Beloved was made into a film which was co-produced by 1994 Inductee Oprah Winfrey, who had spent ten years adapting it for the screen.

Morrison indelibly demonstrated that great literature is neither bound to be written by men nor exclusively by people of European descent. She fostered a new generation of Black writers, including poet Toni Cade Bambara, activist 2019 Inductee Angela Davis, and novelist Gayl Jones. She has been unapologetic about her focus on Black people’s experiences, and the power with which she has brought this focus has earned her the moniker, “The Conscience of America.”

Year Honored: 2020
Birth: 1931 - 2018
Achievements: Arts, Humanities