This summer we lost a great poet

This summer we lost a great poet. A true artist who painted in words. She will not be easily replaced. That poet was Toni Morrison. I would like to share with you the story of her life which speaks to all of those who dedicate themselves to personal achievement and the expression of their social voice. Here is part of the story of Toni Morrison. From Wikipedia: Chloe Anthony Wofford “Toni” Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford; February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019) was an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, and professor emeritus at Princeton University. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon (1977) brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1988, she won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for Beloved (1987). Born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, Morrison graduated from Howard University in 1953 and went to graduate school at Cornell University. She later taught English at Howard University and also married and had two children before divorcing in 1964. In the late 1960s, she became the first black female editor in fiction at Random House in New York City. In the 1970s and 1980s, she developed her own reputation as an author, and her perhaps most celebrated work, Beloved, was made into a 1998 film. Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. In 1996, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected her for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Also that year, she was honored with the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. On May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, she received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. Early years Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, to Ramah (née Willis) and George Wofford. She was the second of four children in a working-class, African American family. Her mother was born in Greenville, Alabama, and moved north with her family as a child. Her father grew up in Cartersville, Georgia, and when he was about 15, white people lynched two black businessmen who lived on his street. Morrison said: “He never told us that he’d seen bodies. But he had seen them. And that was too traumatic, I think, for him.” Soon after the lynching, George Wofford moved to the racially integrated town of Lorain, Ohio, in the hope of escaping racism and securing gainful employment in Ohio’s burgeoning industrial economy. He worked odd jobs and as a welder for U.S. Steel. Ramah Wofford was a homemaker and a devout member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Morrison’s parents instilled in her a sense of heritage and language through telling traditional African American folktales and ghost stories and singing songs. Morrison also read frequently as a child; among her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. She became a Catholic at the age of 12 and took the baptismal name Anthony (after Anthony of Padua), which led to her nickname, Toni. Attending Lorain High School, she was on the debating team, the Diversity—Cindy Goldberg, Co-Chair yearbook staff, and in the drama club. Adulthood and editing career: 1949–1974 In 1949, she enrolled at the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C., seeking the company of fellow black intellectuals. It was while at Howard that she encountered racially segregated restaurants and buses for the first time. She graduated in 1953 with a B.A. in English and went on to earn a Master of Arts from Cornell University in 1955. Her master’s thesis was titled “Virginia Woolf’s and William Faulkner’s treatment of the alienated.” She taught English, first at Texas Southern University in Houston for two years, then at Howard University for seven years. While teaching at Howard, she met Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, whom she married in 1958. She was pregnant with their second son when she and Harold divorced in 1964. After the breakup of her marriage, Morrison began working as an editor in 1965, for L. W. Singer, a textbook division of publisher Random House, in Syracuse, New York. Two years later she transferred to Random House in New York City, where she became their first black woman senior editor in the fiction department. In that capacity, Morrison played a vital role in bringing black literature into the mainstream. One of the first books she worked on was the groundbreaking Contemporary African Literature (1972), a collection that included work by Nigerian writers Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe and South African playwright Athol Fugard. She fostered a new generation of African American authors, including Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, Black Panther Huey Newton and Gayl Jones, whose writing Morrison discovered, and she brought out the autobiography of boxer Muhammad Ali in The Greatest. She also published and publicized the work of Henry Dumas, a little-known novelist and poet who was shot to death by a transit officer in the New York City Subway in 1968. First writings and teaching, 1970–1986 Morrison had begun writing fiction as part of an informal group of poets and writers at Howard University who met to discuss their work. She attended one meeting with a short story about a black girl who longed to have blue eyes. Morrison later developed the story as her first novel, The Bluest Eye, getting up every morning at 4 am to write, while raising two children alone. The Bluest Eye was published in 1970, when Morrison was aged 39. It was favorably reviewed in The New York Times by John Leonard, who praised Morrison’s writing style as being “a prose so precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry … But The Bluest Eye is also history, sociology, folklore, nightmare and music.” In 1975, Morrison’s second novel Sula (1973), about a friendship between two black women, was nominated for the National Book Award. Her third novel, Song of Solomon (1977), follows the life of Macon “Milkman” Dead III, from birth to adulthood, as he discovers his heritage. In 1983, Morrison left publishing to devote more time to writing, while living in a converted boathouse on the Hudson River in Nyack, New York. She taught English at two branches of the State University of New York (SUNY) and at Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus. In 1984, she was appointed to an Albert Schweitzer chair at the University at Albany, SUNY. The Beloved Trilogy and the Nobel Prize: 1987–1998 Morrison published her most celebrated novel, Beloved. It was inspired by the true story of an enslaved African-American woman, Margaret Garner, whose story Morrison had discovered when compiling The Black Book. Garner had escaped slavery but was pursued by slave hunters. Facing a return to slavery, Garner killed her two-year-old daughter but was captured before she could kill herself. Morrison’s novel imagines the dead baby returning as a ghost, Beloved, to haunt her mother and family. Beloved is the first of three novels about love and African-American history, sometimes called the Beloved Trilogy. Morrison said that they are intended to be read together, explaining, “The conceptual connection is the search for the beloved – the part of the self that is you, and loves you, and is always there for you.” The second novel in the trilogy, Jazz, came out in 1992. Told in language that imitates the rhythms of jazz music, the novel is about a love triangle during the Harlem Renaissance in New York City. The third novel of her Beloved trilogy, Paradise, about citizens of an all-black town, came out in 1997. The next year, Morrison was on the cover of Time magazine, making her only the second female writer of fiction and second black writer of fiction to appear on what was perhaps the most significant US magazine cover of the era. Before Morrison published the third novel of the trilogy, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Her citation reads that she, “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” She was the first black woman of any nationality to win the prize. In her Nobel acceptance speech, Morrison talked about the power of storytelling. To make her point, she told a story. She spoke about a blind, old, black woman who is approached by a group of young people. They demand of her, “Is there no context for our lives? No song, no literature, no poem full of vitamins, no history connected to experience that you can pass along to help us start strong? … Think of our lives and tell us your particularized world. Make up a story.” Final years: 2010–2019 In May 2010, Morrison appeared at PEN World Voices for a conversation with Marlene van Niekerk and Kwame Anthony Appiah about South African literature, and specifically van Niekerk’s 2004 novel Agaat. Morrison wrote books for children with her younger son, Slade Morrison, who was a painter and a musician. Slade died of pancreatic cancer on December 22, 2010, aged 45. Morrison’s novel Home was half -completed when her son died. In May 2011, Morrison received an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Rutgers University–New Brunswick during the commencement ceremony, where she delivered a speech on the “pursuit of life, liberty, meaningfulness, integrity, and truth.” Morrison debuted another work in 2011: She worked with opera director Peter Sellars and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré on a new production, Desdemona, taking a fresh look at William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello. The trio focused on the relationship between Othello’s wife Desdemona and her African nursemaid, Barbary, who is only briefly referenced in Shakespeare. The play, a mix of words, music and song, premiered in Vienna in 2011. Morrison had stopped working on her latest novel when her son died. She said that afterward, “I stopped writing until I began to think, “He would be really put out if he thought that he had caused me to stop. ‘Please, Mom, I’m dead, could you keep going …?'” She completed Home and dedicated it to her son Slade Morrison. Published in 2012, it is the story of a Korean War veteran in the segregated United States of the 1950s, who tries to save his sister from brutal medical experiments at the hands of a white doctor. In August 2012, Oberlin College became the home base of the Toni Morrison Society, an international literary society founded in 1983, dedicated to scholarly research of Morrison’s work. Morrison’s eleventh novel, God Help the Child, was published in 2015. It follows Bride, an executive in the fashion and beauty industry whose mother tormented her as a child for being dark skinned – a childhood trauma that has dogged Bride her whole life. Morrison was a member of the editorial advisory board of The Nation, a magazine started in 1865 by Northern abolitionists. Morrison died at Montefiore Medical Center in The Bronx, New York City, on August 5, 2019, from complications of pneumonia. She was 88 years old. In closing, we can learn a lot from the life of Toni Morrison and from her poetry. Her voice has not been silenced but lives on through her writing to be heard by generation after generation after her passing. Fondly submitted for the diversity committee, Feel free to comment on this article at our Diversity Blog, https://aauwhhl.wordpress.com. Biographical material from Wikipedia

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