Books

Toni Morrison, Nobel laureate and author of Beloved, dead at 88

Nobel laureate Toni Morrison has died at the age of 88, her publisher Alfred A. Knopf confirmed on Twitter.
American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher and professor emeritus Toni Morrison is dead at the age of 88. (Mongrel Media)

Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison has died. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf says Morrison died Monday, August 5, 2019 at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. She was 88.

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.

Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eyein 1970 at the age of 39. The book told the story of a young girl, Pecola Breedlove, who is bullied for being black and prays for blond hair and blue eyes.

In 1992, Morrison explained to Eleanor Wachtel on Writers & Company that she didn't write The Bluest Eye to get it published, but because she wanted to read something about a young black girl.

"I just had simply never read a book where a young black girl was centre stage, when the book was about her, when she wasn't a backdrop or somebody's notion of comedy," said Morrison.

"It took a long, long time to write it mostly because I wasn't thinking of publishing it. I just wanted to read it when I got through. After that, I never wanted to be without some project that was gestating in some sense like that one was for so long."

The American author of the prize-winning Beloved talks about her new novel Jazz.

Morrison went on to have a long and acclaimed career in letters, publishing novels like Song of Solomon, Jazz, Sula, Paradise and A Mercy and essay collections like The Source of Self-Regardas well as plays and an opera.

Her work explored the dynamic between society and the individual from a black American perspective, bringing to light the cruel legacy of slavery. Morrison was praised for her incisive intellect, incomparable prose and for blazing a path for other black writers and thinkers.

Morrison worked as an editor at Random House for 19 years, publishing black woman writers like Gayl Jones and Toni Cade Bambara. She is also credited with convincing Angela Davis to write an autobiography and persuading Random House to publish the stories and poetry of Henry Dumas after he was murdered by a transit officer.

"I wanted to give back something," Morrison said of her editing days in a 2003 interview with The New Yorker.

"I wasn't marching. I didn't go to anything. I didn't join anything. But I could make sure there was a published record of those who did march and did put themselves on the line."

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, a documentary about the author, was released this month. Morrison gives candid one-on-one interviews in the film, sharing the story of her remarkable life, while colleagues, friends and famous fans like Oprah discuss how she changed literature.

Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio on February 18, 1931. She lived most of her adult life in New York and was a creative writing professor at Princeton University.

Among many honours, Morrison received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977 for Song of Solomon, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and the 2016 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.

with files from The Associated Press.

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