Toni Morrison was a prolific writer of novels, essays, and song lyrics, who first came to prominence in the early 1970s. Morrison's narratives often focused particularly on the experience of women within the Black community, while weaving complex narratives from a patchwork of voices across time and space.
Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. But it was in 1978 that she finally gained some national attention (and a National Book Critics Circle Award) for her novel, Song of Solomon. Her accolades, spread throughout her life, included the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for her book Beloved; and the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. She also held numerous lectureships and academic chair positions at universities across the U.S. and in Europe and was a senior editor at Random House for nearly two decades. In 1993, Morrison became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature.
After graduating from Howard University in the early 1950's, Morrison knew that there was no better place to learn the craft of writing than at Cornell University. Surrounded by some of the top professors and fellow students, she started putting long hours in at the library. This culminated in her master's thesis, which was titled, "Virginia Woolf's and William Faulkner's treatment of the alienated." In 1955 she graduated with a Master of Arts degree in American literature from Cornell University.
Morrison returned to the Ithaca campus numerous times over the years. From 1997 to 2003, Morrison was an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell. She also visited and lectured at Cornell several times, including a 2013 visit when she spoke about literature, politics, and her days as a graduate student.
"It’s always nice for me to come back,” she said in 2009. "My memories are strong about this place; important. And the two times I have been here for sustained periods have always been extraordinary."
Following her death in 2019, Cornell University announced that one of the new on-campus residence halls would be named in honor of the Noble Prize-winning author. Then in 2021, her alma mater decided to honor Morrison’s 90th birthday by organizing a 3-day colloquium that included a panel of international scholars. The scholars discussed how Morrison's writing has impacted writers, critics, and readers—not just those at Cornell, but worldwide.