Toni Morrison, American writer, Milan, Italy, 23rd November 1994. (Photo by Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images)
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. Until the time of her death, she was America's only living Nobel Laureate for literature. 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.
RIP Toni Morrison. This is a devastating loss to the world of words, to our understanding of power and it’s reach, to the cultivation of empathy, to rich, nuanced, elegant storytelling. Her work was a gift to every one who had the pleasure of reading her.
— roxane gay (@rgay) August 6, 2019
Life is short (rest in peace, Toni Morrison) and the world is terrible, but all I can offer is what I have: my words. Off to the writing desk. 💔
— Celeste Ng (@pronounced_ing) August 6, 2019
I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing both Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison speak on stage before they passed away, and that feels like the epitome of a blessing. It also feels like I’ve lost my last grandmother.
— Ashley C. Ford (@iSmashFizzle) August 6, 2019
Toni Morrison has given us so, so much. What a blessing it was to share the planet with her.
— Brit Bennett (@britrbennett) August 6, 2019
Taking a minute and really remembering the first time I read Toni Morrison. I started with The Bluest Eye, and then tore through my mom's copies of Sula and Song of Solomon. Reading Beloved in college was one of the most profound literary experiences of my life.
— Anne Helen Petersen (@annehelen) August 6, 2019
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With Toni in Manhattan. I love you. And thank you for your care. Not just for me but for all the artists and folks trying to survive in the everyday who believe that, like you, memory and love as a combined force can and will change the world. Toni: you broke our hearts with the truth.
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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.
Like honestly has there ever been a baddie as bad as Toni Morrison? A woman who published her first novel at 39 after waking up every morning at 4 to write before getting her kids to school and going to work editing books by white men then ended up winning the full NOBEL PRIZE???
— Jeremy O. Harris (@jeremyoharris) August 6, 2019
It may be a cliche to say Toni Morrison’s work was essential and formative in my life as a young-ish black woman, but then that speaks to the significance of her words.
— Britt Julious (@britticisms) August 6, 2019
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
Holding all those touched by Toni Morrison in my heart today. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/2jkAvtaErK
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) August 6, 2019
Toni Morrison on the challenges of being a Black woman writer. pic.twitter.com/b87yOaW15v
— no thanks (@QGotNoRings) February 25, 2019
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"If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it." — Toni Morrison. There is no singular quote that has had a more profound impact on my life. There is no author who has taught me more about who I am, or who I could be. "The Bluest Eye" was the first book I ever read by choice. "Sula" is the only book I've read more than once. Reading "Beloved" in high school shook me to my core. We, of course, are not losing Toni Morrison. Her impact is too great to ever imagine a world without her. She is in us all. We love you Toni Morrison. Thank you for all that you've made possible for us all. Photo: Damon Winter
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Song of Solomon changed my life, & altered me. In the midst of being lifted, tossed about- plunged into depths of feeling, understanding & empathy not till then in my reach, I had just enough alertness to note I was reading masterfully glorious writing.
— Holland Taylor (@HollandTaylor) August 6, 2019
Toni Morrison was a national treasure, as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page. Her writing was a beautiful, meaningful challenge to our conscience and our moral imagination. What a gift to breathe the same air as her, if only for a while. pic.twitter.com/JG7Jgu4p9t
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 6, 2019
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.”
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