Toni Morrison, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and the first African-American woman to win a Nobel Prize, has died at age 88.
Knopf, the author’s publisher, confirmed she passed away on Monday night.
Morrison was best known for capturing the joys, passions, heartaches and pains of the Black experience in novels such as Beloved, Song of Solomon and A Mercy.
During her career that spanned over six decades, she wrote 11 novels, five children’s books, two plays, a song cycle and an opera. Before writing her first book, she worked as an editor and professor.
After graduating from Cornell, Morrison was a professor at Texas Southern University and Howard University, where she taught the civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael. During her time at Howard, she met Harold Morrison, whom she married in 1958. They went on to have two children, Ford and Slade before they divorced in 1964.
She then went on to write her first novel, The Bluest Eye, which delved into the mind of an adolescent Black girl who was so obsessed with white beauty standards she prayed for God to turn her eyes blue.
Although The Bluest Eye received a good review from the New York Times, it was not popularly received. To make ends meet, Morrison worked as an editor at Random House, where she encouraged up-and-coming Black writers like Gayl Jones and Angela Davis.
In 1974, she published The Black Book, an anthology of African-American life and history, which went on to be known as one of the greatest influences of Black anthropology and culture.
Beloved, her most well-known piece of writing, was published in 1987. Morrison got the idea for the story while publishing The Black Book. Morrison read about a runaway slave who kills her infant daughter after being recaptured by enslavers and turned the tale into a fantastical piece of Black fiction.
The novel remained on the best-seller list for 25 weeks and was added to school reading lists across the country. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, making Morrison the first Black woman to win the coveted title.
In the '90s, Morrison won several awards and accolades for her work. She was chosen for a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, the Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1996 and the 1996 National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
During this time, she also penned essays about the racially charged controversies of the era, including the Anita Hill hearings and the O.J. Simpson trial. Oprah Winfrey also added some of Morrison’s novels to her influential Book Club, which started a friendship between the two women. In 1998, Oprah starred and co-produced a film adaptation of Beloved.
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(Photo: Timothy Fadek/Corbis via Getty Images)
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