Toni Morrison Proved There’s No Time Limit for Success
Reminder: Toni Morrison took time to become Toni Morrison
This is what we know: More than once, Toni Morrison was a woman picking her way through a reinvention of her life.
She’d been Chloe Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, the daughter of a mother who loved books and a ship-welder father who taught her the pride of a craft well done. She’d been Toni Wofford, a drama-loving English major and homecoming queen at Howard University, and then she was Toni Morrison after getting married, adopting her husband’s surname and becoming a mother.
Then she became the Toni Morrison when, as a Howard University professor, she started penning short stories in an intensive faculty writing group. She was pregnant with her second son when her marriage dissolved in 1964 and she moved to New York City to start her new life with her boys and her next career as a book editor at Random House. Again and again, she fire-baptized new versions of herself with change.
I hope the story of how Toni Morrison became Toni Morrison will remind us of the flexibility of time and the mercy of reinvention.
This is what we can imagine: Morrison huddled over her longhand in the still of the predawn mornings. Maybe she wore a satin scarf over her robust tower of Afro. Maybe she sat cross-legged, real sophisticated and dignified-like, until creativity jolted her forward and thrust the words down her arm and onto her notepad so fast she could barely keep up with them. She told an interviewer that once, as she was working, her toddler threw up on the page and instead of interrupting the flow of an inspired sentence, she just kept on writing right around it.
That’s how The Bluest Eye was birthed, scrawled in daily 4 a.m. writing sessions by a single mother with two children and an intense day job, undeterred by limitations of time, experience, and baby vomit to publish her first novel. It was 1970. Morrison was almost 40 years old.