LITERARY ICON, TONI MORRISON, THE FIRST BLACK WOMAN TO WIN THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE TAKES A BOW AT 88
Toni Morrison, celebrated author and former Poet Laureate of the United States, has passed away at age 88. She died at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center on Monday, August 5 after a brief illness, according to a statement released by publisher Alfred A. Knopf.
“We are profoundly sad to report that Toni Morrison has died at the age of eighty-eight,” the publisher announced on social media on Tuesday morning. The news came in tandem with a statement from Morrison’s family.
“Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends,” the family said. “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.”
Among the many honours The Bluest Eye author received in her career, she was the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. She also earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved, a novel about a former slave living in Ohio. Oprah Winfrey, who became a friend of Morrison’s, starred in the 1988 film adaptation.
On Instagram, Oprah posted a moving tribute in reaction to Morrison’s passing, sharing a photo of her with the Poet Laureate during her first-ever The Oprah Winfrey Show appearance in 1996.
“In the beginning, there was the word. Toni Morrison took the word and turned it into a song…of Solomon, of Sula, Beloved, Mercy, Paradise Love, and more. She was our conscience, our seer, our truth-teller,” Oprah wrote on Instagram. “She was a magician with language who understood the power of words. She used them to roil us, to wake us, to educate us and help us grapple with our deepest wounds and try to comprehend them.”
She continued: “It is exhilarating and life-enhancing every time I read and share her work. She was Empress-Supreme among writers. Long may her WORDS reign!”
Morrison wrote eleven novels, nine non-fiction releases, five children’s books, two short stories, and two plays. Several of her books have appeared on Oprah’s Book Club list, including her 1970 novel The Bluest Eye and 1973’s Sula. She published The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations, in 2019.
Then-president Barack Obama awarded Morrison a Presidential Medal of Freedom in April 2012. Following the news of Morrison’s passing this morning, Obama shared a tribute.
“Toni Morrison was a national treasure. Her writing was not just beautiful but meaningful—a challenge to our conscience and a call to greater empathy,” he captioned an Instagram photo of the two of them laughing in the White House Oval Office. “She was as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page. And so even as Michelle and I mourn her loss and send our warmest sympathies to her family and friends, we know that her stories—that our stories—will always be with us, and with those who come after, and on and on, for all time.”
More admirers also shared their reactions on social media, alongside their favourite quotes of hers, as well as praise for her influential work.
“Toni Morrison’s ability to spark dialogue and present a perspective never seen in mainstream literature made her a force for good in this world,” tweeted Rep. Deb Haaland, a congresswoman serving New Mexico. “She had a bold gracefulness that we can all learn from.”
PHOTO CREDIT: THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE