Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, a pioneer and reigning giant of modern literature whose imaginative power in "Beloved," ''Song of Solomon" and other works transformed American letters by dramatizing the pursuit of freedom within the boundaries of race, has died at age 88.
Few authors rose in such rapid, spectacular style. She was nearly 40 when her first novel, "The Bluest Eye," was published. By her early 60s, after just six novels, she had become the first black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize, praised in 1993 by the Swedish academy for her "visionary force" and for her delving into "language itself, a language she wants to liberate" from categories of black and white. In 2019, she was featured in an acclaimed documentary, "Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am."
Morrison helped raise American multiculturalism to the world stage and helped uncensor her country's past, unearthing the lives of the unknown and the unwanted, those she would call "the unfree at the heart of the democratic experiment." In her novels, history - black history - was a trove of poetry, tragedy, love, adventure and good old gossip, whether in small-town Ohio in "Sula" or big-city Harlem in "Jazz." She regarded race as a social construct and through language founded the better world her characters suffered to attain. Morrison wove everything from African literature and slave folklore to the Bible and Gabriel Garcia Marquez into the most diverse, yet harmonious, of literary communities.
With files from the Associated Press
With guest host Libby Denkmann
A statement from documentary filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders who directed “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” released last June:
"I’ve been privileged to know Toni Morrison for nearly 40 years. During that time, she won many awards and accolades — the Nobel, a Pulitzer, the Presidential Medal of Freedom…But for me, Toni has been a treasured collaborator, a monumental inspiration and, most importantly, a cherished friend. We will all miss her, but the gifts she left us — her written works that have transformed so many lives around the world — live on...to educate, empower and nourish us. For this and all she shared with us, I say thank you Toni"
Maia Butler, assistant professor of African American Literature at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington
Autumn Womack, assistant professor of African American Studies and English at Princeton; she has taught a single author course on Toni Morrison