Oprah tweets about Beloved author’s death
NOBEL laureate Toni Morrison has died after a brief illness.
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf says Morrison died on Monday night at Montefiore Medical Centre in New York. She was 88.
Her family said in a statement that they were sad about her passing but happy she lived the life that she did.
"Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends," the family announced. "She was an extremely devoted mother, grandmother, and aunt who revelled in being with her family and friends. The consummate writer who treasured the written word, whether her own, her students or others, she read voraciously and was most at home when writing."
"Although her passing represents a tremendous loss, we are grateful she had a long, well lived life," they said.
Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for Beloved. She also wrote The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon.
She was the first black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize, awarded in 1993.
The Swedish academy hailed her use of language and her "visionary force."
Her novel Beloved, in which a mother makes a tragic choice to murder her baby to save the girl from slavery, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.
Oprah Winfrey turned the book into a movie, in which she also starred.
Toni Morrison was a national treasure, as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page. Her writing was a beautiful, meaningful challenge to our conscience and our moral imagination. What a gift to breathe the same air as her, if only for a while. pic.twitter.com/JG7Jgu4p9t— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 6, 2019
Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, in 1931, the second of four children to a working-class African-American family. She was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford and encouraged by her parents to read and to think, and was unimpressed by the white kids in her community. Recalling how she felt like an "aristocrat," Morrison believed she was smarter and took it for granted she was wiser.
She was an honours student in high school, and attended Howard University in 1949 because she dreamt of life spent among black intellectuals.
She earned a degree in English before going on to earn a Master of Arts from Cornell in 1955.
She married her first husband, a Jamaican architect named Harold Morrison, in 1958 but they divorced in 1964, while she was pregnant with her second son. They named their two children Harold and Slade.
Morrison started working at publisher Random House in 1965 and became the first black female senior editor in its fiction department.
She was 39 years old when she published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970, based on a childhood memory of a black girl in Lorain - raped by her father - who desired blue eyes.
Morrison prided herself on the gift of applying "invisible ink," making a point and leaving it to the reader to discover it, such as her decision to withhold the skin colour or descriptions of her characters in Paradise.
Morrison's breakthrough came in 1977 with Song of Solomon, her third novel and the story of young Milkman Dead's sexual, social and ancestral education. It was the first work by a black writer since Richard Wright's Native Son to be a full Book-of-the-Month selection and won the National Book Critics Circle award.
By her early 60s, after just six novels, she had become the first black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize, praised in 1993 by the Swedish academy for delving into "language itself, a language she wants to liberate" from categories of black and white.
Morrison also wrote several children's books co-authored with her son, Slade Morrison (who died of cancer in 2010).
Morrison helped raise American multiculturalism to the world stage and helped uncensor her country's past, unearthing the lives of the unknown and the unwanted, those she would call "the unfree at the heart of the democratic experiment."
In her novels, history - black history - was a trove of poetry, tragedy, love, adventure and good old gossip, whether in small-town Ohio in Sula or big-city Harlem in Jazz.
She regarded race as a social construct and through language founded the better world her characters suffered to attain.
Morrison wove everything from African literature and slave folklore to the Bible and Gabriel Garcia Marquez into the most diverse, yet harmonious, of literary communities.
"Narrative has never been merely entertainment for me," she said in her Nobel lecture. "It is, I believe, one of the principal ways in which we absorb knowledge."
Both Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama were huge fans of Morrison's work, with the latter awarding her a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"Maya Angelou helped me without her knowing it," Morrison told The Associated Press during a 1998 interview. "When she was writing her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I was an editor at Random House. She was having such a good time, and she never said, 'Who me? My little book?' I decided that … winning the (Nobel) prize was fabulous," Morrison added. "Nobody was going to take that and make it into something else. I felt representational. I felt American. I felt Ohioan. I felt blacker than ever. I felt more woman than ever. I felt all of that, and put all of that together and went out and had a good time."
She taught for years at Princeton University, from which she retired in 2006, but also had an apartment in downtown Manhattan and a riverfront house in New York's Rockland County that burned down in 1993, destroying manuscripts, first editions of Faulkner and other writers and numerous family mementos. She had the house rebuilt and continued to live and work there.
"When I'm not thinking about a novel, or not actually writing it, it's not very good; the 21st century is not a very nice place. I need it (writing) to just stay steady, emotionally," she told the AP in 2012.