It is no exaggeration to say that Toni Morrison altered the future of publishing when she became an editor in New York City and again when she decided to become an author herself. The Toni Morrison books in order challenge the limited depictions of Black life that prevailed within the cage of stereotype when she was writing and editing.
In contrast to the limitations and stereotypes, Morrison wrote comprehensively about Black life and community. Her depiction is stark and heart-breaking as she realistically features the ramifications of slavery and its effects through generations.
About Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio as Chloe Ardelia Wofford. She took the name Toni while at Howard University as a shortened version of Anthony, and Morrison became her married name after she married Harold Morrison in 1958. They divorced in 1964 and that is when Morrison moved to New York with her two sons and became an editor at Random House.
Morrison was the second of four children and grew up in Ohio surrounded by stories of the South. Her grandparents had migrated to Ohio from the South during the Great Migrations like millions of others. Her parents encouraged her love of reading from a young age with authors like Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, and Leo Tolstoy.
She studied humanities at Howard University before attending Cornell University for a Masters in English. Morrison then taught at Texas Southern University in Houston before teaching at Howard. Following the success of her novels she would also teach at Princeton University, Yale University, and give a series of lectures at Harvard University.
Her writing dissects the trauma of slavery as well as its lasting economic and psychological consequences. While editing, and then as she wrote, Morrison was trying to address the lack of literature that spoke to readers like herself.
She was nearly 40 years old when her debut novel was published, but two decades later after only six novels, she had forged a space for herself within the industry. Her legacy had been cemented.
Morrison died in 2019 at the age of 88.
What books did Toni Morrison win the Nobel Prize for?
Toni Morrison became the first Black woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.
The Nobel Prize for Literature is not given for one specific book — unlike the Pulitzer Prize — but rather an author’s contribution to the industry and community. At the time of her Nobel Prize there were only six Toni Morrison books in order: The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, and Jazz.
The announcement of her award said that her novels were characterized by a visionary force and poetic import, which gave life to an essential aspect of American reality. In her acceptance speech Morrison emphasized the important of language as a system, something one has control over, and for agency.
She would later say that when she wrote she was free from pain. Morrison explained that when writing she has control, and no one can tell her what to do. She went on to say that she is able to think up dangerous and difficult things, but it is an extremely safe space for her to do so.
In addition to the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, Morrison also received many other awards. Those include the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 for Beloved and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Toni Morrison Books in Order of Publication
Since all of Toni Morrison’s full-length books are standalones, it is not necessary to read them in order of publication. However, if you have the opportunity to make that decision for yourself, it would be recommended.
That’s because in following the order of publication you really get to witness the path Morrison forged and the order in which she chose to explore the trauma of slavery and its impact.
As well, while all these books are technically standalones, there are three which are loosely interconnected and are best experienced in order of publication. Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise make up the Beloved trilogy. The three books follow different characters and take place at different moments in time, but are interconnected through shared space.
- The Bluest Eye (1969)
- Sula (1971)
- Song of Solomon (1977)
- Tar Baby (1981)
- Beloved (1987)
- Jazz (1992)
- Paradise (1997)
- Love (2003)
- A Mercy (2008)
- Home (2012)
- God Help the Child (2015)
Novella / Short Story
Toni Morrison also wrote two shorter standalone pieces of fiction. It is, again, not necessary to read these in order of publication, but since the first title was written near the start of her career as an author and the second title was closer to the end, it may be best to follow the publication order.
Morrison also wrote numerous pieces of nonfiction, which have been well-received and some were written in collaboration with other authors. Other titles on this list of nonfiction books are works that Morrison contributed to as an editor.
- Playing in the Dark (1992)
- Race-Ing Justice, En-gendering Power (1992) (Out of Print)
- Nobel Lecture in Literature (1994)
- Conversations with Toni Morrison (1994)
- To Die for the People (1995) (With Huey P. Newton)
- The Dancing Mind (1996)
- Birth of a Nation Hood (1997) (With Claudia Brodsky Lacour)
- Baldwin: Collected Essays (1998) (With James Baldwin)
- Remember (2004)
- What Moves at the Margin (2008)
- Burn This Book (2009)
- The Origin of Others (2017)
- Mouth Full of Blood (2019) (Out of Print)
- The Source of Self-Regard (2019)
- Goodness and the Literary Imagination (2019)
- The Writer Before the Page (2019)
- The Measure of Our Lives (2019)
- Toni Morrison: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations (2020)
Books with Slade Morrison
Toni Morrison wrote several children’s and middle grade books with her son Slade Morrison. Unfortunately, Slade Morrison died of pancreatic cancer in 2010.
Many of the below titles for children have been republished in A Toni Morrison Treasury, which was published posthumously.
Who’s Got Game? Books
- The Ant or the Grasshopper? (2003)
- The Lion or the Mouse? (2003)
- Poppy or the Snake? (2004)
- The Mirror or the Glass? (2007) (Out of Print)
- Peeny Butter Fudge (2009)
- Little Cloud and Lady Wind (2010)
- The Tortoise or the Hare (2010)
- Please, Louise (2014)
Toni Morrison wrote one play in collaboration with Rokia Traoré, who is a singer-songwriter and guitarist, and Peter Sellars, a director. The play was first produced in Vienna and explores the life of Desdemona, the wife of Othello from Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
- Desdemona (2012)
Finally, if you enjoy shorter pieces of fiction, then Morrison also contributed to several anthologies throughout her life.
- Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir (1987)
- Go the Way Your Blood Beats (1996) (Out of Print)
- The Good Parts (2000)
- Black Satin (2004)
- Women of Color Pray (2012)
- Writers: Their Lives and Works (2018)
- On Girlhood: 15 Stories from the Well-Read Black Girl Library (2021)
A Summary of Toni Morrison Books in Order
While Toni Morrison has written dozens of titles, it is her full-length standalone books which are her most popular. So, below you will find summaries for all eleven of her novels. This will help provide a little bit more context into how Morrison frames her stories.
1. The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison’s debut novel takes place in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio. It tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, an eleven-year-old black girl who is praying for blue eyes. Pecola thinks that if her eyes turn blue then she will be as beautiful as the blond, blue-eyed children in America.
But then in the autumn of 1941 the marigolds do not bloom in the Breedloves’ garden. Pecola’s life changes in painful, devastating ways.
Similar to her debut and Morrison’s upbringing, Sula also takes place in a small Ohio town. This novel follows two women through the path of womanhood, their confrontation, and their reconciliation.
The first woman is Nel Wright who has chosen to stay in her hometown, marry, raise a family, and become a pillar of the black community. Meanwhile, Sula Peace has rejected that life for herself by escaping to college and submerging herself in city life.
When Sula returns to their hometown, she is a rebel and wanton seductress. However, both women must face the consequences of their choices.
3. Song of Solomon
Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric threw himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life, Milkman will be trying to fly too. He travels from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins and meets strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins.
4. Tar Baby
Toni Morrison’s take on a love story plays out from the Caribbean to Manhattan and the deep South. She explores the nuances of obligation and betrayal between Blacks and whites, masters and servants, and men and women.
Jadine Childs is a Black fashion model with a white patron, a white boyfriend, and a perfect seal-fur coat. Meanwhile, Son is a Black fugitive who is the embodiment of everything she loathes and desires.
Toni Morrison’s fifth novel is the book for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. It also remains her most popular book nearly 40 years after it was first published.
It follows Sethe who was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but nearly two decades later she is still not free. She is still held captive by memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous atrocities took place. Her home is haunted by the angry, destructive ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
No matter how hard she tries to beat back the past, it makes itself heard incessantly. Then a mysterious teenage girl arrives, calling herself Beloved, and Sethe’s terrible secret explodes into the present.
This is the second book in the loosely interconnected Beloved trilogy. Jazz goes back and forth throughout time to tell a story that is a comprehensive look at the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of Black urban life.
It takes place in the winter of 1926 as everyone is optimistically looking forward to what the future has in store. Then Joe Trace, a middle-aged door-to-door salesman of beauty products, shoots his teenage lover to death. At the funeral, his wife, Violet, attacks the girl’s corpse.
This was the first book Morrison published after she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and it is the final installment in the Beloved trilogy. It opens with a horrific scene of mass violence and chronicles its genesis in an all-Black small town in rural Oklahoma.
The town was founded by the descendants of freed slaves and survivors in exodus from a hostile world. The town of Ruby is a patriarchal community that is built on righteousness, moral law, and fear. But just seventeen miles away, another group of exiles has gathered in a promised land of their own.
It is upon these women in flight of death and despair that nine male citizens of Ruby will lay their pain, their terror, and their murderous rage.
During his lifetime, Bill Cosey enjoyed the affections of many women. They would do almost anything to gain his favor. But in death, his hold on them may be even stronger.
Wife, daughter, granddaughter, employee, and mistress all stake their furious claim on Cosey’s memory and estate. Their claims include everything from intrigue to outright violence. Through it all, Morrison creates a novel that shrewd, funny, erotic, and heart-wrenching.
9. A Mercy
The slave trade in the Americas is still in its infancy during the 1680s. Jacob Vaark is an Anglo-Dutch trader and adventurer, with a small holding in the harsh North. He dislikes dealing in “flesh,” but still takes a small slave girl in part payment for a bad debt from a plantation owner in Catholic Maryland.
The small girl is Florens. She can read and write and might be useful on his farm. Florens feels rejection from her mother, who cast her off to save her, so Florens looks for love first from Lina, an older servant in her new master’s household, and later from a handsome African blacksmith who was never enslaved.
Similarly to Beloved, this is a heart-breaking exploration of the relationship between mother and daughter.
Frank Money enlisted with the Army to escape his too-small world, but had to leave his fragile little sister Cee behind. After the Korean War he journeys to his native Georgia to reunite with his sister, but it soon becomes clear that their trouble began well before their wartime separation.
When they finally reconnect, the siblings return to their rural hometown of Lotus. There buried secrets will be unearthed and Frank will learn at last what it means to be a man, what it takes to heal, and what it means to come home.
11. God Help the Child
Toni Morrison’s last full-length novel before her death takes place in the modern era and explores how childhood experiences shape and misshape the life of an adult.
At the center of the story is a woman who calls herself Bride. She is stunning and her blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty and success, but it is what caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. Then she told a lie that ruined the life of an innocent woman which continues to reverberate.
Meanwhile, Booker is the man Bride loves and then loses. Rain is a mysterious white child, who finds in Bride a confidant. Finally, Sweetness is Bride’s mother who takes a lifetime to learn that what you do to children matters and they might never forget.
Final thoughts on Toni Morrison books in order
The Toni Morrison books in order show the ground-breaking path she forged with her writing. She was in a unique position within the publishing industry to observe a significant lack of books for people like her, and then pursued filling that gap. She did so through her own writing, but also by paying attention to the publishing industry and supporting other Black authors.
The result is that her legacy and the Toni Morrison books in order are comprehensive portraits of Black life. She portrays the trauma of slavery and its aftershocks which continue to reverberate throughout communities and families.