Morrison is best known for her novels “Beloved,” “The Bluest Eye,” and “Song of Solomon,” all of which explored African American identity and America’s complicated history of race relations. A student of William Faulkner’s works, Morrison was the rare writer who could create mythic stories of the American experience through vivid imagery and poignant language. Morrison received the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for “Beloved” and was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2012.
In their 1993 Nobel Prize ceremony honoring her with the highest literary distinction, the Swedish Academy said Morrison’s work was “characterized by visionary force and poetic import.”
Morrison was born Feb. 18, 1931 in Loraine, Ohio. She received a BA in English from Howard University and an MA in English from Cornell University, where she studied the works of Faulkner and Virginia Woolf, two authors whose literary techniques influenced her greatest works. Aside from her illustrious literary career, which spanned four decades and included 11 novels and multiple works of non-fiction, Morrison also taught creative writing and literature at multiple universities.
The Morrison family issued this statement:
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. She was an extremely devoted mother, grandmother, and aunt who reveled 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. Although her passing represents a tremendous loss, we are grateful she had a long, well lived life.
While we would like to thank everyone who knew and loved her, personally or through her work, for their support at this difficult time, we ask for privacy as we mourn this loss to our family. We will share information in the near future about how we will celebrate Toni’s incredible life.
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.”
Morrison said at her Nobel Prize address in 1993: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”