Toni Morrison, the decorated America novelist, passed away on Monday night at 88 years old following “a short illness,” according to multiple reports.
Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in 1931, Morrison gained notoriety and respect for her lyrical prose that sharply characterized the history of black people in America, such as Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Solomon. She also wrote five children’s books, an opera, and two plays in her writing career, which began in the 1970s after she spent years working as an editor and educator. In 1993, the Nobel Prize in Literature was given to Morrison “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” She was the first black woman to receive such a prize. In 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. Her last novel, God Help the Child, was published just four years ago.
Earlier this summer, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders directed Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, a documentary about the prize-winning author, the impact she has had on the canon of American literature, and the years she waited to be recognized for her influence. Her writing actively worked to dismantle white supremacy. In a now-infamous interview with Charlie Rose in 1998, she effectively outlined why she places race and marginalized people at the center of her narratives, and explained why the question of if she would ever cease to write about race was disrespectful. “Yes, I can write about white people, white people can write about black people. Anything can happen in art. There are no boundaries there. Having to do it or having to prove that I can do it is what was embarrassing or insulting,” she said.
Many writers whose work is clearly influenced by Morrison’s politics and skill—from Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere to Brit Bennett, author of The Mothers—took to Twitter to share their grief and remembrances for the late Pulitzer-winning author.
Many other cultural critics, creators, and politicians whose lives and work were touched by Morrison also mourned her on social media, where the general sentiment appeared to be that although she lived a long life, her death still felt unexpected and unimaginable.
Morrison and many other prominent cultural figures, including Oprah Winfrey, Marlon Brando, and Margaret Atwood were close. Per Variety, the author’s family released a statement confirming her death: “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.”