Toni Morrison, the first African-American woman to win the Nobel prize in literature, has died.
Morrison, whose acclaimed, best-selling work explored black identity in America and in particular the experience of black women, reportedly passed away Monday in the Bronx after a brief illness. She was 88.
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf announced that Morrison died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Morrison’s family issued a statement through Knopf saying she died after a brief illness.
“Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends,” the family announced.
“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.”
Born Chloe Ardella Wofford, was the author of 11 novels as well as children’s books and essay collections. Among them were celebrated works like “Song of Solomon,” which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, and “Beloved,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.
In “Sula,” (1973) a woman blithely lets a train run over her leg for the insurance money it will give her family. In “Song of Solomon,” (1977) a baby girl is named Pilate by her father, who “had thumbed through the Bible, and since he could not read a word, chose a group of letters that seemed to him strong and handsome.” In “Beloved,” (1987) the specter of a murdered child takes up residence in the house of her murderer.
Among her other memorable and influential novels Jazz (1992) and Paradise (1997); the three books comprise a loose trilogy.
Just after the last of them was published, Morrison was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the first black woman of any nationality to do so. By then, she had already written six novels; she would go on to write five more.
Her latest, God Help the Child, was published in 2015. She wrote through the toughest of times, including the death of her son in 2010. “I stopped writing until I began to think, he would be really put out if he thought that he had caused me to stop,” Morrison told Interview magazine around the release of her ninth novel, Home, in 2012.
Before she was a world-renowned author, Morrison broke barriers as an editor for Random House, where she worked for 19 years, giving space to a new generation of black writers including Toni Cade Bambara, Gayl Jones, and Angela Davis. She was also the Chair of Humanities at Princeton, where she taught from 1989 to 2006.
“We die,” Morrison closed her Nobel Prize address. “That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
R.I.P. Toni Morrison