Toni Morrison, born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, U.S.A., was the writer noted for her examination of Black experience (particularly Black female experience) within the Black community. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.
Morrison grew up in the American Midwest in a family that possessed an intense love of and appreciation for Black culture. Storytelling, songs, and folktales were a deeply formative part of her childhood. She attended Howard University (B.A., 1953) and Cornell University (M.A., 1955). After teaching at Texas Southern University for two years, she taught at Howard from 1957 to 1964. In 1965 Morrison became a fiction editor at Random House, where she worked for a number of years. In 1984 she began teaching writing at the State University of New York at Albany, which she left in 1989 to join the faculty of Princeton University; she retired in 2006.
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Morrison’s first book, The Bluest Eye (1970), is a novel of initiation concerning a victimized adolescent Black girl who is obsessed by white standards of beauty and longs to have blue eyes. In 1973 a second novel, Sula, was published; it examines (among other issues) the dynamics of friendship and the expectations for conformity within the community. Song of Solomon (1977) is told by a male narrator in search of his identity; its publication brought Morrison to national attention. Tar Baby (1981), set on a Caribbean island, explores conflicts of race, class, and sex.
The critically acclaimed Beloved (1987), which won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is based on the true story of a runaway slave who, at the point of recapture, kills her infant daughter in order to spare her a life of slavery. A film adaptation of the novel was released in 1998 and starred Oprah Winfrey. In addition, Morrison wrote the libretto for Margaret Garner (2005), an opera about the same story that inspired Beloved.
In 1992 Morrison released Jazz, a story of violence and passion set in New York City’s Harlem during the 1920s. Subsequent novels were Paradise (1998), a richly detailed portrait of a Black utopian community in Oklahoma, and Love (2003), an intricate family story that reveals the myriad facets of love and its ostensible opposite. A Mercy (2008) deals with slavery in 17th-century America. In the redemptive Home (2012), a traumatized Korean War veteran encounters racism after returning home and later overcomes apathy to rescue his sister. In God Help the Child (2015), Morrison chronicled the ramifications of child abuse and neglect through the tale of Bride, a Black girl with dark skin who is born to light-skinned parents.
A work of criticism, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, was published in 1992. Many of Morrison’s essays and speeches were collected in What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction (2008; edited by Carolyn C. Denard) and The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations (2019). She and her son, Slade Morrison, cowrote a number of children’s books, including the Who’s Got Game? series, The Book About Mean People (2002), and Please, Louise (2014). She also penned Remember (2004), which chronicles the hardships of Black students during the integration of the American public school system; aimed at children, it uses archival photographs juxtaposed with captions speculating on the thoughts of their subjects. For that work, Morrison won the Coretta Scott King Award in 2005.
The central theme of Morrison’s novels is the Black American experience; in an unjust society, her characters struggle to find themselves and their cultural identity. Her use of fantasy, her sinuous poetic style, and her rich interweaving of the mythic gave her stories great strength and texture. In 2010 Morrison was made an officer of the French Legion of Honour. Two years later she was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (2019) is a documentary about her life and career.
MARGARET GARNER Music by Richard Danielpour Libretto by Toni Morrison Synopsis ACT ONE The opera begins in darkness. A group of slaves, begging for deliverance from their suffering, gradually becomes visible. The scene shifts to an auction being held in Kentucky in 1856. In the crowd is Edward Gaines, a native of the region but absent for twenty years. When Maplewood Plantation is brought to the block, he interrupts the proceedings, asserting that it cannot be sold as it belonged to his deceased brother. Gaines is dismayed to learn that the townsfolk don’t remember him, but no one disputes his claim, so he acquires Maplewood. As Gaines signs ownership papers, he is captivated by the singing of Margaret Garner, one of the slaves. He nostalgically recalls his childhood, and promises himself that this time the townsfolk will not forget him. The slaves return from another day’s toil in the fields. Cilla, the mother of Margaret's husband, Robert, joins the couple for supper; their spirits are light-hearted until Casey, Maplewood's foreman, arrives with shocking news. Robert is being sent away that night to another plantation, but Margaret is to remain at Maplewood — where she will work, at the Master's request, in the main house. Gaines hosts a lavish reception to celebrate his daughter Caroline's marriage. An argument erupts between Edward and his new son-in-law, George, about the nature of love; to break the tension, the newlyweds begin a waltz. After the dance, Caroline asks Margaret, now the house servant, for her views on love. The guests are outraged to hear her solicit a slave's opinion, and leave abruptly. Offended, Gaines lashes out at Caroline. Later, Gaines lingers, unseen, to watch Margaret clean the parlor. He accosts her, forcibly dragging her away. ACT TWO Anticipating a visit from Robert, Margaret goes to Cilla's cabin. She becomes agitated when she finds her packing and the children missing, until Cilla discloses that Robert plans an escape attempt that evening. Margaret is overwhelmed when he arrives and confirms the news, but disconcerted that Cilla refuses to join them. Casey suddenly storms into the cabin; a struggle ensues which ends with Robert strangling Casey to death. Robert and Margaret escape from Maplewood, and are living in an underground shed in Ohio. Robert asserts that freedom and dignity are nearly theirs. But Gaines suddenly arrives to claim his property, and captures Robert. Margaret attempts to burn Gaines with fiery coals, and witnesses his men lynching Robert. Enraged, she murders her children so they will be spared slavery's horrors. Darkness again envelops the stage briefly. With defiant grandeur, Margaret then embraces her life's circumstances. Gaines transports Margaret back to Kentucky to stand trial for the “theft and destruction” of the children, considered his property. Caroline protests that Margaret should properly be charged with murder, for the children were human beings. The judges sentence Margaret to be executed for theft. When Caroline begs her father to seek clemency, Gaines realizes he must choose between the love of his radical daughter and a traditional way of life. Great sorrow fills the air as the townsfolk await Margaret's execution. At dawn, she is led to the scaffold. Gaines runs in, waving a document — the judges have granted Margaret clemency! On the gallows, Margaret expresses her desire to live peacefully in a just world, and then seizes “freedom” by hanging herself. Edward realizes that peace never will be his. Although he made the "right" choice — to fight for Margaret's freedom — he did it for the wrong reason: he wanted to win his daughter's respect. The onlookers proclaim a need for repentance, and pray that Margaret's final journey home is a peaceful one. — Mary Lou Humphrey / Source: archive.org