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Toni Morrison (1931–2019), Nobel Prize-winning author of “Beloved”

by Linnea Crowther

Toni Morrison was the Nobel Prize-winning author of best-selling novels including “Beloved,” “Song of Solomon,” and “The Bluest Eye.” Her critically acclaimed books told powerful stories of black lives in America, from the time of slavery through modern days. “Beloved” (1987) won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award, while “Song of Solomon” (1977) had the distinction of being the first book by a black author chosen as a main selection of the Book of the Month Club since Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” 37 years earlier. Her most recent work was “God Help the Child” (2015) and she also wrote non-fiction, children’s literature, and plays including “Desdemona.” When she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, Morrison became the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was recognized with many other honors including the National Humanities Medal in 2000, the Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for Fiction in 2011, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented to her by President Barack Obama in 2012.

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Died: August 5, 2019 (Who else died on August 5?)


Details of death: Died in New York at the age of 88.

Is there someone you miss whose memory should be honored? Here are some ways.

The Oprah Effect: Morrison’s 1977 novel “Song of Solomon” was the second book chosen by Oprah Winfrey for her newly-launched book club in 1996. It was the first of four Morrison books that Winfrey would showcase, followed in later years by “Paradise,” “The Bluest Eye,” and “Sula.” Each selection gave a major boost to sales of the book in question, and the novels were introduced to a wide audience that might not otherwise have discovered them. 800,000 paperback copies of “The Bluest Eye” were sold after it was featured in 2000, 30 years after its original publication. Winfrey credited Morrison’s books for being a driving force behind her book club.

Notable quote: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

What people said about her: “She was constantly tapped into a reserve of self-love and culture that, in her hands, became an unending spin of fascination. She didn’t have time to worry about what white people were thinking about her or her work. She had all of this wondrous blackness to explore…. Whatever you needed to know about Toni Morrison is there in eleven novels, a score of essays, and a clutch of children’s books if you want your kid to get a head start. In that body of work, she has laid out every value necessary for a better world, every question that must be answered by those who mean to participate in change. And because she did so with such care and craft, the work is always relevant, always giving good answers.” —Author Scott Woods (read his full tribute at Legacy)

“Toni Morrison. First of Her Name. Architect of Words. Acclaimed Author. Teller of Truths. Shifter of Culture. Netter of Nobel Prize. Writing Domino. Legendary Laureate. Long may her works reign.” —Author Luvvie Ajayi

“Thank you for the inspiration. For lending me your courage when I could not find my own. For all the words in which I found myself. Thank you. My heart is full.” —LeVar Burton

“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.” —Former President Barack Obama

“My love of Toni Morrison knows no bounds. Her words have shaped our world and we will never be the same. I cannot put into words the profound peace it brings me to know that no matter what happens to our vessels, Toni Morrison will never die. She lives on.” —Author Ijeoma Olua

“She wasn’t just the queen of American letters. She wrote America’s letters. And whether we realize it or not, all Americans and all writers are indebted to Toni Morrison. Sleep well. We are eternally grateful for you. We are eternally grateful for America’s letters.” —Author Ibram X. Kendi

“So much of black literature starting with the slave narratives are written for and to white people. Toni Morrison made it clear that she was writing for black people. An ongoing love letter. That’s the perspective a lot of us have now and it’s a Morrisonian innovation.” —Author Rion Amilcar Scott

The loss of Toni Morrison touches us all. Her legacy will continue in every book she brought into the world. Every sentence crafted with conciseness and care. How does one mourn their beloved? Someone who pressed into their soul. I’m gathering myself to make tribute but I am undone.” —Well-Read Black Girl book club

Full obituary: New York Times

Related lives:

  • Maya Angelou (1928–2014), iconic author whose books include “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
  • Ntozake Shange (1948–2018), pioneering playwright wrote “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf”
  • Amiri Baraka (1934–2014), poet and leader of the Black Arts Movement

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