New York / US author Tony Morrison, the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, has died in a New York hospital, the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house announced on its Twitter account. She was 88.
“Toni Morrison‘s working life was spent in the service of literature: writing books, reading books, editing books, teaching books,” said Knopf chairman Sonny Mehta about the author, who died Monday.
“Her narratives and mesmerizing prose have made an indelible mark on our culture. Her novels command and demand our attention. They are canonical works, and more importantly, they are books that remain beloved by readers,” Mehta added.
Morrison, who was among the key black writers creating a typically American narrative, won the Nobel Prize in 1993, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988 and, after a six-decade career, she left a legacy of titles that stand our for their humanity, including “Beloved,” “Song of Solomon,” “Mercy” and “Jazz.”
She wrote a total of 11 novels and “I can think of few writers in American letters who wrote with more humanity or with more love for language than Toni,” said Mehta.
Morrison‘s style stands our for the way she constructed her characters, especially women, and her narrative, about which she said in her Nobel acceptance speech “Narrative has never been merely entertainment for me. It is, I believe, one of the principal ways in which we absorb knowledge.”
Born Chloe Anthony Wofford on Feb. 18, 1931, into a working class family in a steel town near Cleveland, Ohio, Morrison was an honors student in high school, graduated from Howard University in Washington DC and aimed for carving out a niche for herself among black intellectuals.
She married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, had two children with him but divorced in 1964, after which she went to New York, where she worked as a textbook and literary editor for Random House and in 1970 adopted the pseudonym Toni Morrison to write her first novel – “The Bluest Eye” – to prevent her employer from learning that she had published it elsewhere.
She continued with “Sula” and “Song of Solomon,” which won the 1978 National Book Critics Circle Award and the commercial success of which allowed her to leave her editing job to fully devote herself to writing, turning out “Tar Baby” and “Beloved,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.
In 1992, she published “Jazz,” along with an essay in which she defended Anita Hill, the young black woman who denounced Judge Clarence Thomas for sexual harassment during the latter’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. A year later, she won the Nobel.
She was the eighth woman to receive the Nobel for literature, and the first black woman to be so honored, with the Swedish Academy stating that “in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, (Morrison) gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”
She continued writing after winning the Nobel, collaborating with her son Slade, with whom she got into children’s literature, and she also explored other genres, including writing the lyrics for “Four Songs,” by composer Andre Previn, and the libretto for the opera “Margaret Garner,” by Richard Danielpour.
Oxford University awarded her an honorary Doctorate of Letters in June 2005, and from 1989-2006, she held the Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities at Princeton University