Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning American author of novels like “Song of Solomon” and “Beloved,” died Monday in New York, her longtime publisher Knopf said in a statement. She was 88.
“It is with profound sadness we share that, following a short illness, our adored mother and grandmother, Toni Morrison, passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends,” the Morrison family said in a statement. “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.”
A former editor at Random House who turned to writing fiction herself, Morrison became both a critical and commercial favorite with novels like 1973’s “Sula,” 1977’s “Song of Solomon” and 1987’s “Beloved” — which won the Pulitzer Prize and was later adapted into a 1998 film starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.
In 1993, she became the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Swedish Academy singled out the “visionary force and poetic import” of her work, which “gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”
Other novels included “The Bluest Eye” (1970), “Jazz” (1992), “Paradise” (1997) and “A Mercy” (2008).
But critics widely regard her greatest masterpiece as “Beloved,” which Morrison based on the true story of a black female slave who escaped a Kentucky plantation in 1856 with her husband to free-state Ohio only to have their owner and legal authorities catch up with them.
In 1996, she received the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and in 2012, President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Robert Gottlieb, Morrison’s longtime editor at Knopf, said: “She was a great woman and a great writer, and I don’t know which I will miss more.”
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