Toni Morrison, the first African-American author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, died on August 6 at the age of 88. She has experienced the segregation and racism that are part of the history of blacks and that she retraces, sometimes crudely, through her novels. The writer has explored the whole history of black Americans, slavery in contemporary times.

Chloe Ardelia Wofford, aka Toni Morrison, was born on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, an industrial town in a Midwestern, Ohio, rural state. She grew up in a modest family descended from slaves.

At the age of 12, she chose Anthony as her first name - Chloe Anthony Wofford - and the diminutive, Toni, remains.

A passionate academic of literature

Passionate about literature, she went to Washington in 1949 where she enrolled at Howard University, then reserved for blacks. She graduated in literature from the prestigious Cornell University, and began a university career. Married in 1958 to Harold Morrison, an architect, she has two sons. The couple divorced six years later.

In 1964, Toni Morrison moved to Syracuse, New York where she became a textbook publisher. At the same time, she began her writing career with her first book, The Bluest Eye , in 1970. But the young woman is even bigger: the publishing house in which she works has just been bought by the prestigious Random House. Toni Morrison wants to propose to publish books that speak to women, or even blacks.

After all, "Things were very simple at the time," says Morrison. I was young, I started writing when I was 39 years old. It is the summit of life. My children were a real liberation because their needs were simple. (...). The children did not pay attention to my hairstyle, did not care about my appearance. She said in 2012 to a Guardian journalist.

Preserve the memory of the black American people

Ambitious project that this one. How to preserve the memory of the black American people?

Toni Morrison grew up in a time when segregation was still in effect. When it arrives in Washington in 1949, buses still carry signs "reserved for people of color": this separation will be legally abolished in 1964 with the law on civil rights.

From his new office in New York, Toni Morrison moves heaven and earth to find witnesses of the civil revolution that is agitating the United States. 1967 will be the official year of the end of segregation, the beginning of the 70s will be that of the entry of black literature on the American book market.

Toni Morrison offered the opportunity to Mohammed Ali or Angela Davis but also the Black Panther Huey Newton and the poet Henry Dumas to express themselves on paper. A subtle literary revolution that will push its instigator to take the plunge.

A militant writer

"I ended up writing books because I wanted to read. But I could not publish them since no one had written them yet. "

The Bluest Eye (1970) is the story of Pecola praying night and day to have blue eyes and who will lose faith. This first book, Toni Morrison will then take 10 years to write it starting when she is still a professor at Howard University. It was not until 1970 that Chloe Athony Wofford metamorphoses fully into Toni Morrison and reveals her true nature: that of a militant writer.

The themes that are discussed - racism, incest, abuse - will detest the forbidden book in many schools and public libraries. The Bluest Eye will be hated by both blacks and whites. "To romance the daily life of an African-American family in the grip of the reality of white supremacy and the internal violence of the black community risked emulating them. "

An open letter - published in the New York Times in 1988 - signed by the hands of 48 African-American writers will finally point to the immense work of Toni Morrison that literary academies will no longer be able to ignore. The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), The Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981) were recognized by critics after Beloved (1987) caught the attention of the Pulitzer Prize jury.

Five years later, the child of Ohio receiving the first Nobel Prize awarded to an African-American author - installs his work to the world's pantheon of literature.

In all, Toni Morrison leaves a bibliography of 11 novels written between 1970 and 2015 but also essays, children's books, two plays and even an opera libretto. The author has explored the entire history of black Americans since their enslavement until their emancipation in the current American society in an irreplaceable style, always fleeing simplism and Manichaeism.

Délivrances, his latest novel, which unfolds nowadays, is tinged with touches of hope.

Kelly Donaldson for DayNewsWorld