This Day In Black Excellence: Toni Morrison Won The Nobel Prize In Literature


Thirty years ago, on October 7, 1993, Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Morrison was the first Black woman to receive a Nobel Prize in any category.

In the announcement, the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy said Morrison “gives life to an essential aspect of American reality” in her books, which are “characterized by visionary force and poetic import.”

The statement continued, hailing Morrison as “a literary artist of the first rank,” adding that “[s]he delves into the language itself, a language she wants to liberate from the fetters of race. And she addresses us with the luster of poetry.”

As the 90th winner of the prize, Morrison received an $825,000 monetary award. During an interview with The New York Times, she said, “This is a palpable tremor of delight for me. It was wholly unexpected and so satisfying. Regardless of what we all say and truly believe about the irrelevance of prizes and their relationship to the real work, nevertheless this is a signal honor for me.”

“I was thrilled that my mother is still alive and can share this with me,” stated Morrison.

She also gave a shout out to her roots, saying “I can claim representation in so many areas. I’m a Midwesterner, and everyone in Ohio is excited. I’m also a New Yorker, and a New Jerseyan, and an American, plus I’m an African-American, and a woman. I know it seems like I’m spreading like algae when I put it this way, but I’d like to think of the prize being distributed to these regions and nations and races.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., then chairman of Harvard University’s Afro-American studies department, who also co-edited a collection of essays on Morrison’s work, said, “This is a great day for African-Americans, and for Americans in general.”

“Just two centuries ago, the African-American literary tradition was born in slave narratives,” Gates continued, “Now our greatest writer has won the Nobel Prize.”

But accepting the award that December in Stockholm “was one of the most terrifying moments of Morrison’s entire life,” she later recalled.

And it wasn’t because of imposter syndrome. That day, clad in a dazzling floor-length gown and sporting Manolo Blahnik heels, then 62-year-old Morrison was hesitant about ascending the marble staircase.

“I’m not talking about six stairs,” Morrison said to her friends, “There must have been 90,” reports The Washington Post.

Luckily, the king of Sweden was there to help during her moment of need, and escorted her down the stairs. “The king was very reassuring,” Morrison stated. “He told me: ‘We’ll take care of each other. You hold onto me, and I’ll hold onto you.’”

Ultimately, it was a resounding success—as Morrison fondly reminisced, “I like the Nobel Prize. Because they know how to give a party.”


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