Toni Morrison, 'Beloved' author and Nobel laureate, dies at 88

Toni Morrison, author of seminal works of literature on the black experience such as "Beloved," "Song of Solomon" and "Sula" and the first African-American w...

Posted: Aug 6, 2019 10:00 AM
Updated: Aug 6, 2019 6:00 PM

Toni Morrison, author of seminal works of literature on the black experience such as 'Beloved,' 'Song of Solomon' and 'Sula' and the first African-American woman to win a Nobel Prize, has died, her publisher Knopf confirmed to CNN.

She was 88.

Morrison's novels gazed unflinchingly on the lives of African Americans and told their stories with a singular lyricism, from the post-Civil War maelstrom of 'Beloved' to the colonial setting of 'A Mercy' to the modern yet classic dilemmas depicted in her 11th novel, 'God Help the Child.'

Her talent for intertwining the stark realities of black life with hints of magical realism and breathtaking prose gained Morrison a loyal literary following. She was lauded for her ability to mount complex characters and build historically dense worlds distant in time yet eerily familiar to the modern reader.

Themes such as slavery, misogyny, colorism and supernaturalism came to life in her hands.

A decorated novelist, editor and educator -- among other prestigious academic appointments, she was a professor emeritus at Princeton University -- Morrison said writing was the state in which she found true freedom.

'I know how to write forever. I don't think I could have happily stayed here in the world if I did not have a way of thinking about it, which is what writing is for me. It's control. Nobody tells me what to do. It's mine, it's free, and it's a way of thinking. It's pure knowledge,' Morrison said.

The words of others

Morrison, who was nearly 40 when she published her first novel in 1970, wasn't an overnight success.

The author was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, the daughter of George and Ella Ramah Wofford, whom she often credited with instilling in her a love of the arts.

A strong and prolific reader as a child, Morrison studied Latin and devoured European literature.

Growing up in Lorain, Morrison has said, she played and attended school with children of various backgrounds, many of them immigrants. Race and racism were not the overriding concerns in her childhood that they would become in her books.

'When I was in first grade, nobody thought I was inferior. I was the only black in the class and the only child who could read,' she once told the Los Angeles Times.

She encountered segregation for the first time when she attended Howard University in Washington, D.C.

It was a policy she found 'theatrical' and hard to take seriously. However, family lore of lynchings, injustice at the hands of white people and midnight flight from the South seem to have informed her later subject matter.

In 1953, she graduated from Howard with a degree in English; she went on to earn a master's from Cornell University in 1955.

She married Jamaican architect Harold Morrison in 1958 and gave birth to two sons -- Harold Ford in 1961 and Slade Kevin in 1964. She and her husband divorced after six years of marriage.

Morrison began her storied career in letters as a college instructor at Texas Southern University and later at Howard, her alma mater.

In 1963, she took a position as a book editor at Random House based in Syracuse, New York, where she worked for 20 years before leaving in 1983. Morrison was editing the works of others when she published her first novel at age 39.

'I didn't become interested in writing until I was about 30 years old,' she later said. 'I didn't really regard it as writing then, although I was putting words on paper. I thought of it as a very long, sustained reading process -- except that I was the one producing the words.'

'The Bluest Eye,' about an impoverished and abused black girl who longs for blue eyes, was met with middling reviews but gained prestige when it was added to the City University of New York curriculum.

'Required reading,' Morrison has said. 'Therein lies the success.'

The novel has been challenged and called offensive over the years by parents in communities across the country who say the subject matter, which involves incest and violence, is too raw for young readers.

A regal presence

Morrison went on to pen roughly a dozen novels, most lauded among them 1987's 'Beloved,' about a former slave who kills her baby to ensure it is never enslaved. 'Beloved' won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Her non-fiction work included 1974's collection of African-American historical ephemera 'The Black Book,' 1992's 'Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination' and 2004's 'Remember: The Journey to School Integration.'

A regal presence who'd come to be associated with her crown of gray dreadlocks, Morrison had amassed a body of work that rivaled the most decorated American novelists by the late 1980s, though according to some she had not been fully recognized as the literary institution she was. Morrison herself had championed the work of black writers such as Toni Cade Bambara, Gayl Jones and Angela Davis while at Random House.

In 1988, a group of 48 black writers and thinkers published a statement in The New York Times in support of Morrison and other black writers and critical of the literary establishment, which seemed to have gone out of its way to pass them over for major writing awards.

'Despite the international stature of Toni Morrison, she has yet to receive the national recognition that her five major works of fiction entirely deserve: She has yet to receive the keystone honors of the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize,' read the statement.

She received the Pulitzer for 'Beloved' two months later.

The novel was adapted into a 1998 film directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover and Thandie Newton. The movie was not a success.

Morrison encountered personal tragedy in 1993 when her home burned down, and in 2010 with the death of her son Slade at age 45 from pancreatic cancer. She had collaborated with Slade, a visual artist whom she called a 'brilliant writer,' on a series of children's books.

The lows were countered by the highest of heights. The same year her son died, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her body of work to that point.

'One can delight in her unique narrative technique, varying from book to book and developed independently, even though its roots stem from Faulkner and American writers from further south. The lasting impression is nevertheless sympathy, humanity, of the kind which is always based on profound humour,' said the Nobel committee in announcing the award in 1993.

President Barack Obama awarded Morrison the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 -- the loftiest US honor for a civilian.

The author preferred to let her work speak for her, often appearing publicly as an inscrutable grand dame, reluctant to talk about personal affairs. However, writing, she said, was the one space where she really could be larger than life.

'All of my life is doing something for somebody else,' Morrison told New York magazine in 2012. 'Whether I'm being a good daughter, a good mother, a good wife, a good lover, a good teacher -- and that's all that. The only thing I do for me is writing. That's really the real free place where I don't have to answer.'

Given that independence, it was perhaps ironic that she stuck with her married name on her books. ('Toni' was a high school nickname.) She'd used it for 'The Bluest Eye' and later regretted it, she said.

'Wasn't that stupid?' she said. 'I feel ruined!'

The people who know her best call her Chloe, she added.

'Chloe writes the books.'

Terre Haute
Cloudy
62° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 62°
Robinson
Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 59°
Indianapolis
Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 59°
Rockville
Cloudy
58° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 58°
Casey
Cloudy
55° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 55°
Brazil
Cloudy
62° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 62°
Marshall
Cloudy
62° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 62°
Turning Cooler and Windy
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Monday: Scattered showers, cooler. High: 57

Image

Series Concert

Image

Candles Holocaust Museum remembers Mickey Kor

Image

Sunday Night: Showers and thunderstorms, strong storms possible. Low: 53°

Image

Q&A held to answer any questions about COVID-19 vaccine

Image

Fall Fest Trunk or Treat

Image

Rose Hulman Series Concert

Image

Sunday: Morning rain, then warm and breezy. High 73°

Image

haunted halls YMCA

Image

Stephanie's Kitchen

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1680908

Reported Deaths: 28023
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook63626111214
DuPage1086211379
Will915681128
Lake802871090
Kane68604874
Winnebago41222561
Madison40178598
St. Clair36326599
McHenry34856331
Champaign27087197
Peoria26991368
Sangamon25818287
McLean23073220
Tazewell20689331
Rock Island18919362
Kankakee17959249
Kendall16268114
Macon15344252
LaSalle15078287
Vermilion14453201
Adams13188152
DeKalb12201134
Williamson12091175
Whiteside8328183
Jackson810494
Boone796583
Coles7918125
Ogle759290
Grundy741386
Franklin7339115
Knox7321169
Clinton7136102
Macoupin6988106
Marion6935144
Henry666177
Effingham6639100
Jefferson6573143
Livingston599498
Stephenson587893
Woodford578492
Randolph5563100
Christian536682
Fulton527977
Monroe5258103
Morgan5088100
Logan495675
Montgomery492882
Lee479760
Bureau444291
Saline436169
Perry433975
Fayette432464
Iroquois422577
McDonough374861
Shelby349848
Jersey336953
Lawrence335533
Crawford333730
Douglas328437
Union307748
Wayne304863
White280833
Richland280157
Hancock274435
Clark266940
Cass266531
Pike265658
Edgar260649
Clay259854
Bond257525
Ford246059
Warren244866
Carroll237138
Moultrie236333
Johnson229732
Wabash217319
Jo Daviess216629
Massac216551
Mason214452
Washington212928
De Witt206530
Greene205640
Mercer205036
Piatt202814
Cumberland190126
Menard172513
Jasper161621
Marshall141721
Hamilton134222
Schuyler108810
Brown106610
Pulaski104612
Edwards104118
Stark81828
Gallatin7939
Alexander73212
Scott7126
Henderson70914
Calhoun6932
Hardin60916
Putnam5674
Pope5566
Unassigned1342433
Out of IL140

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 1007681

Reported Deaths: 16470
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1355212121
Lake664101166
Allen57993801
Hamilton46350465
St. Joseph44397615
Elkhart35949510
Vanderburgh32251480
Tippecanoe27933260
Johnson25107445
Hendricks23897359
Porter22929365
Madison18748409
Clark18557252
Vigo17479303
Monroe15263200
LaPorte15173250
Delaware15073263
Howard14748290
Kosciusko12348148
Hancock11728176
Bartholomew11639180
Warrick11292189
Floyd11108215
Wayne10986253
Grant10082220
Morgan9472176
Boone8926115
Dubois8271131
Henry8229152
Dearborn822393
Noble8031106
Marshall7939135
Cass7546121
Lawrence7457171
Shelby7189119
Jackson698289
Gibson6597115
Harrison649192
Knox6421106
Huntington6395100
DeKalb632399
Montgomery6264111
Miami593398
Putnam581278
Clinton576171
Whitley565755
Steuben562576
Wabash5332104
Jasper532079
Jefferson511297
Ripley500586
Adams482576
Daviess4677114
Scott438974
Greene425196
Wells424888
Clay423360
White418764
Decatur4169102
Fayette406587
Jennings387361
Posey376644
Washington359151
LaGrange359078
Randolph3452100
Spencer340243
Fountain335760
Sullivan329452
Starke317171
Owen314771
Fulton312667
Orange293664
Jay284645
Franklin265643
Perry265452
Rush262432
Carroll261934
Vermillion258654
Parke231426
Pike229243
Tipton228159
Blackford193142
Pulaski183757
Crawford159823
Newton158348
Benton150617
Brown146747
Martin138719
Switzerland135011
Warren121116
Union107016
Ohio84613
Unassigned0540