Toni Morrison, the first African-American female author to win a Nobel Prize, has died. She was 88.
Morrison passed away Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, publisher Alfred A. Knopf said. Her family said she died after a brief illness.
“Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends,” the family said in a statement through Knopf. “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.”
Born Chloe Ardella Wofford in Ohio in 1931, Morrison rose to become an award-winning author whose work spoke of the pain and resiliency in the black experience.
She was best known for her critically acclaimed novel Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988. The novel was adapted into a 1998 film by the same name, directed by Oscar winner Jonathan Demme, and starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.
Among Morrison’s other memorable novels were Jazz (1992), Paradise (1997) Tar Baby (1981), Love (2003) and Home (2012). President Barack Obama awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
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Time is no match for Toni Morrison. In her writing, she sometimes toyed with it, warping and creasing it, bending it to her masterful will. In her life’s story, too, she treated time nontraditionally. A child of the Great Migration who’d lifted up new, more diverse voices in American literature as an editor, Toni didn’t publish her first novel until she was 39 years old. From there followed an ascendant career—a Pulitzer, a Nobel, and so much more—and with it, a fusion of the African American story within the American story. Toni Morrison was a national treasure. Her writing was not just beautiful but meaningful—a challenge to our conscience and a call to greater empathy. She was as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page. And so even as Michelle and I mourn her loss and send our warmest sympathies to her family and friends, we know that her stories—that our stories—will always be with us, and with those who come after, and on and on, for all time.
“Toni Morrison was a national treasure. Her writing was not just beautiful but meaningful — a challenge to our conscience and a call to greater empathy,” Obama said in a statement Tuesday on Instagram. “She was as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page.”
Morrison also received an NAACP Image Award for her novel, Love.
“Our hearts are heavy over the loss of our sister, Toni Morrison,” the NAACP said in a statement Tuesday. “Her legacy will live on through her contributions to the literary community, and the world as a whole.”