Toni Morrison, the first female African-American author to win a Nobel Prize and the mind behind such literary classics as Beloved and Song of Solomon, passed away on Monday at age 88.
Morrison’s official Facebook page posted a statement on Tuesday confirming that the best-selling author had passed away at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
“Morrison’s novels were celebrated and embraced by booksellers, critics, educators, readers, and librarians. Her work also ignited controversy, notably in school districts that tried to ban her books,” stated the official page.
“And for over five decades, Morrison was also a part-time teacher of creative writing and literature, often bringing students together with other writers, at Howard University (from which she graduated in 1953), Yale University, SUNY Purchase, Bard College, Rutgers University, SUNY Albany, and Princeton University, where she retired as Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities in 2006.”
The statement quoted Sonny Mehta, Chairman of Alfred A. Knopf, the publisher that released her books, who said that Morrison’s life was “spent in the service of literature.”
“I can think of few writers in American letters who wrote with more humanity or with more love for language than Toni. Her narratives and mesmerizing prose have made an indelible mark on our culture,” stated Mehta.
“Her novels command and demand our attention. They are canonical works, and more importantly, they are books that remain beloved by readers.”
Born in Lorain, Ohio on Feb. 18, 1931, Morrison was raised in a working class family and known to have a love of reading early in life.
Morrison’s literary works centered on the African-American experience. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970.
In 1993, Morrison received the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first African-American female author to earn such an honor.
Professor Sture Allén, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, explained in a speech at the 1993 Nobel award ceremony that Morrison “has given the Afro-American people their history back, piece by piece.”
“In this perspective, her work is uncommonly consonant. At the same time, it is richly variegated. The reader derives vast pleasure from her superb narrative technique, shifting from novel to novel and marked by original development,” said Allén.
“Morrison’s novels invite the reader to partake at many levels, and at varying degrees of complexity. Still, the most enduring impression they leave is of empathy, compassion with one’s fellow human beings.”
In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Morrison with the United States’ highest honor for civilians, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
While her mother was active in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Morrison would convert to Roman Catholicism as a child in the 1940s.
“There's a wing of my family who are all Catholics,” explained Morrison in a 2015 interview with NPR. “One of them was a cousin with whom I was very close, and she was a Catholic. And so I got baptized, et cetera, and I chose Saint Anthony of Padua as the baptismal name.”
She also told NPR in 2015 that while she had taken her faith “seriously for years and years and years” at that point her faith was “not a structured one.”
“I might be easily seduced to go back to church because I like the controversy as well as the beauty of this particular Pope Francis. He's very interesting to me,” explained Morrison at the time.