Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio in 1931, Morrison was the second child of four. Her maternal grandparents were sharecroppers from Alabama who had moved north in the hope of finding a better life for their children and escaping the racial injustice of the South.
Although Morrison’s parents, George and Ramah Willis Wofford, struggled to raise their family in an America ravaged by the Great Depression and segregation, the Woffords instilled a great love and pride for black culture and language in their children, surrounding them with folktales and music passed down from their ancestors.
Morrison was intellectually mature from a young age, and her parents supported her educational pursuits. After graduating from high school in 1949, she attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. where she began to go by the nickname “Toni” (a shortened version of her baptismal name, Anthony).
In 1953, Morrison became the first person in her family to graduate from college and immediately moved to Ithaca, New York to pursue her graduate degree in literature from Cornell University. After receiving her master’s in 1955, she began a teaching career that would span into the 1980s. Morrison eventually moved her family to Syracuse, New York, where she had accepted a job as an editor for a textbook subsidiary of Penguin Random House. After long hours at work, she developed a writing project that would become her first novel, The Bluest Eye, which was published in 1970 and reflects Morrison’s own experience growing up in Depression-era Ohio.
Written by Amy Slothower
Guthrie Literary Intern