Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio on February 18, 1931. She received a B.A. in English from Howard University in 1953 and a master's degree in English from Cornell University in 1955 with her thesis on the theme of suicide in modern literature. She taught at several universities including Texas Southern University, Howard University, and Princeton University. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. Her other works include Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Paradise, Love, A Mercy, and Home. She has won several awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award for 1977 for Song of Solomon, the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988, the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. She also co-wrote children's books with her younger son, Slade Morrison, including The Big Box, The Book of Mean People, and Peeny Butter Fudge.
Professor, writer, and civil rights activist Cornel West was born on June 2, 1953 in Tulsa, Oklahoma and raised in Sacramento. He graduated from Harvard University in 1973 with an M.A. and later taught African-American studies there. He has also taught at Union Theological Seminary, Haverford College, and Princeton University, the latter as professor of religion and director of African-American studies. West earned his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1980. He has written more than twenty books, including Race Matters and Restoring Hope: Conversations on the Future of Black America.