Toni Morrison dead at 88; Nobel laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner was an influential author, activist

August 6, 2019

by Frances Dixon

Toni Morrison—the Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner whose works included the novels “Beloved,” “Tar Baby” and “Song of Solomon”—died after a brief illness at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City on August 5, 2019. She was 88. According to the Associated Press, her death was announced by book-publishing company Alfred A. Knopf, and her family issued this statement:

“Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by 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.”

Morrison (whose real name was Chloe Ardelia Wofford) was born in 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, as the second of four children. Her father was a welder, and her mother was a domestic worker.  Morrison graduated from Howard University in 1953 with a bachelor’s degree in Englis, and she earned her master’s degree from Cornell University in 1955. She later worked in theater.  Morrison had two children (sons Harold and Slade) with Jamaican architect, Harold Morrison, whom she was married to from 1958 to 1964. Their marriage ended in divorce.

Her first book, “The Bluest Eye,” was published when she was nearly 40 years old. Her works usually addressed issues of racism in the United States. Although she was widely praised by most people familiar with her work, Morrison often received criticism from others because of her outspoken views on race relations.

In 1989, she received a Pulitzer Prize for “Beloved.” (The novel was made into a 1998 movie produced by and starring Oprah Winfrey. Danny Glover and Thandie Newton also co-starred in the movie.)  In 1993, Morrison became the first black woman to be awarded the Nobel prize in literature. Her other numerous accolades included the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which she received in 2012. At the time of her death, she was a retired professor at Princeton University, where she worked in the humanities department from 1998 to 2006.

Morrison’s last book was 2015’s “God Help the Child.” She is the subject of the 2019 documentary “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” which received mostly positive reviews.