Unlike many novelists who became household names, Toni Morrison (born today in 1931 as Chloe Anthony Wofford; Anthony was her confirmation name, and led to her friends calling her “Toni”) had a professional career as well. She taught at universities like Howard and Princeton, and spent nearly two decades as a fiction editor at Random House.
As an editor she nurtured the careers of several black novelists, while also publishing everything from Muhammad Ali’s autobiography to The Black Book, a groundbreaking anthropological look at the black American experience.
In 1993, Morrison became the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. In her acceptance speech, she mused on her legacy and the meaning of what she and her community of writers did: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”