“I was young. I started writing when I was 39. That’s the height of life. The real liberation was the kids, because their needs were simple. One, they needed me to be competent. Two, they wanted me to have a sense of humor. And three, they wanted me to be an adult. No one else asked that of me. Not in the workplace – where sometimes they’d want you to be feminine, or dominant, or cute.”
Toni Morrison’s Views on Family and Motherhood
This is what Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison had to say about motherhood in a 2012 interview with the Guardian. Because many of her novels, including “Beloved“, for which she was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988, deal with the theme of motherhood. Several books, one of them being “Politics of the Heart“, have been written regarding Toni Morrison’s views on the subject of Motherhood and how she brought positive social change.
Born Chloe Wofford, at age 12, she became a Catholic. Her baptismal saint was Saint Anthony, which was shortened to “Toni” and became her nickname. After high school, she attended Howard University, where she earned a B.A. in English in 1953. She earned her Master of Arts at Cornell University in 1955, and went on to teach English, eventually teaching at Howard, her alma mater. There, she met architect Harold Morrison, her future husband and father of her two sons, Harold (Ford) and Slade. Their marriage lasted from 1958 to 1964.
Toni Morrison‘s view of motherhood as reflected in her literary works is one of motherhood as a profound act of social and political resistance in the struggle against both racism and the oppression of women. Her belief is that motherhood is an empowering force that can transform the future for all children and can bring great positive social change. For her book “Beloved“, the story of a mother and child, she was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988.
Toni Morrison, the Mother of Color
As a mother of color, Toni Morrison has spoken of the added pressures of parenting that result from racism.
“There were instances, when they were teenagers. Being stopped in the car, and given a ticket because you had tinted glass or something. Little bits and pieces of police harassment…”.
Her extraordinarily powerful contributions to literature enlightened society on the subject of the effects of slavery and racism on mothers and children and successfully furthered positive social change.
Inspiring Positive Social Change
One of those changes was that, in 1993, Toni Morrison became the first woman of color to ever receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1996, she was chosen by The National Endowment for the Humanities for the honor of presenting the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. The title of her lecture was “The Future of Time: Literature and Diminished Expectations“. In the lecture, she warned of the dangers of allowing history to reduce our expectations of creating a better future and positive social change.
She was also honored in 1996 with the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. This honor is awarded to writers whose life work has enriched humanity’s literary heritage. In 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and still enjoys the honor of serving as Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. The list of awards she has earned is as long as it is impressive.
Toni Morrison’s Contribution to Our Common Definition of Motherhood
In addition to her contributions to adult literature, Toni Morrison has also written children’s books in collaboration with her youngest son, Slade, also a painter and musician. Tragically, she lost him to cancer at age 45 in 2010. Her novel “Home“, which she was in the process of writing when he died, is dedicated to him.
In a 2015 interview about her personal life, she spoke for every mother who has ever longed, yet failed, to be perfect, about regret.
“Afterwards, I remember every error, every word that I spoke that was wrong or incontinent, every form of when I did not protect them properly,”
“Now that I’m 84, I remember everything as a mistake — and I regret everything. Now, mind you, one of them is now deceased, one of them is very successful, so I don’t have any reason for this except perhaps age and regret.”
Her title of her latest book, “God Help The Child“ published in April 2015, speaks to all parents of the impossibility of perfectly protecting our children. and our inability to perfectly protect our children. Even when writing about the inabilities and impossibilities of parents, she continues to free individuals and bring positive social change to women and mothers. It is her first book to be set in modern times.