“Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do,” Toni Morrison wrote in her 1970 novel “The Bluest Eye.” Morrison lived by that very sentiment, putting pen to paper and creating beauty and inspiration through her words. Today, fans mourn Morrison’s death, while also celebrating her remarkable accomplishments in conquering racial and gender divides.
According to a family statement, Morrison passed away Monday evening at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, following a brief illness. Knopf Publishing confirms that the author died peacefully in her sleep, surrounded by family and loved ones.
Morrison lived an extraordinary life, breaking boundaries and challenging the industry with both her words and actions. Born in Lorain, Ohio, she attended Howard University, where she immersed herself in the arts. There she met Harold Morrison, a young architect from Jamaica who taught at the university. After marrying in 1958, the pair had two children, Harold and Slade. The couple divorced in 1964.
That same year, Morrison made history at Random House, becoming the first African-American woman to work as an editor for the prestigious publishing company. For years she worked alongside esteemed authors until she published her first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” six years after becoming a textbook editor. Nearly a dozen novels followed her first, including her award-winning “Beloved,” which earned her a Pulitzer Prize and was later adapted into a film starring Oprah Winfrey. Morrison also authored several critically acclaimed nonfiction essays including “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination,” as well as a play entitled “Dreaming Emmett.” The versatile author also worked alongside her son Slade Morrison in co-authoring numerous children's books.
In 1993, Morrison made history once again, becoming the first African-American woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature. A press release on the Nobel Prize website describes Morrison as “a literary artist of the first rank. She delves into the language itself, a language she wants to liberate from the fetters of race. And she addresses us with the lustre of poetry.”
Remembering Toni Morrison
Her works, which emerged during the peak of the Black Arts Movement, expose readers to the harsh realities of segregation and those communities impacted by inequality. In demystifying this reality, her novels have helped open the eyes of many. In 2012, former President Barack Obama acknowledged this, awarding the novelist the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and highlighting the meaningful impact her books have had on the country and its perception of racial and gender equality.
Morrison shared her perspective of the African-American experience not only in her written works, but also through her lectures at Texas Southern University, the State University of New York, and ultimately Princeton, where she retired from teaching in 2006.
Her legacy lives on in her most recent book, “God Help the Child,” published in 2015, and in a new documentary titled “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” which immortalizes the importance of her life’s work.
As legions of fans mourn the loss of the “Beloved” author, they can perhaps find comfort in a passage from Morrison’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
For more on Toni Morrison’s inspirational life see: