STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

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 9:00 AM
Updated: Aug 6, 2019 5:00 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.'

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 60898

Reported Deaths: 1698
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin19271835
Ramsey7572265
Dakota4414106
Anoka3683114
Stearns289320
Washington212845
Nobles17646
Olmsted173223
Scott155919
Mower11012
Rice10328
Blue Earth9185
Wright8845
Carver8613
Clay78440
Sherburne7238
Kandiyohi6961
St. Louis55319
Todd4262
Lyon4253
Freeborn3591
Steele3482
Nicollet33713
Benton3203
Watonwan3080
Winona26116
Beltrami2400
Crow Wing23514
Le Sueur2201
Martin2075
Chisago2011
Goodhue1969
Otter Tail1943
McLeod1810
Cottonwood1780
Becker1571
Pipestone1579
Polk1534
Waseca1480
Itasca14712
Douglas1441
Carlton1370
Unassigned13441
Pine1290
Dodge1270
Isanti1250
Murray1221
Chippewa1041
Morrison921
Wabasha920
Brown892
Faribault870
Jackson860
Meeker852
Rock850
Sibley832
Koochiching773
Pennington751
Cass722
Mille Lacs713
Renville645
Fillmore630
Lincoln580
Grant553
Swift531
Roseau520
Yellow Medicine520
Pope480
Houston420
Aitkin401
Norman400
Kanabec361
Redwood360
Wilkin343
Hubbard330
Marshall290
Mahnomen271
Wadena270
Red Lake240
Big Stone220
Lake210
Stevens180
Clearwater140
Traverse110
Lac qui Parle70
Cook50
Kittson30
Lake of the Woods20

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 48781

Reported Deaths: 929
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk10309207
Woodbury371952
Black Hawk312766
Linn237588
Johnson209619
Dallas188535
Buena Vista179412
Scott171814
Dubuque167631
Marshall144426
Pottawattamie132526
Story116614
Wapello90033
Muscatine84748
Webster8017
Crawford7283
Sioux6343
Cerro Gordo62517
Warren5641
Tama55129
Jasper47826
Wright4721
Plymouth4629
Clinton3973
Dickinson3814
Louisa37814
Washington29810
Boone2583
Hamilton2461
Franklin24110
Bremer2267
Clarke2013
Carroll1921
Emmet1924
Clay1901
Shelby1841
Hardin1810
Des Moines1792
Marion1730
Poweshiek1598
Benton1561
Jackson1561
Allamakee1554
Floyd1552
Mahaska13917
Cedar1331
Guthrie1325
Jones1302
Buchanan1271
Henry1254
Hancock1222
Butler1212
Madison1212
Pocahontas1152
Lee1143
Lyon1132
Delaware1121
Humboldt1111
Cherokee1081
Harrison1071
Clayton1043
Taylor980
Iowa971
Winneshiek971
Page940
Kossuth910
Monona910
Mills890
Sac850
Jefferson840
Palo Alto840
Winnebago840
Calhoun832
Osceola830
Fayette820
Grundy791
Mitchell780
Union771
Cass741
Monroe737
Lucas684
Worth660
Montgomery594
Davis572
Chickasaw540
Appanoose493
Howard490
Fremont420
Greene410
Van Buren371
Keokuk351
Adair300
Ida290
Audubon281
Decatur230
Ringgold221
Wayne191
Adams160
Unassigned60
Rochester
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 71°
Mason City
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 71°
Albert Lea
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 72°
Austin
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 73°
Charles City
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 72°
Clouds clear tonight, tracking sunshine for Tuesday!
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Preparing for Minnesota's Primary

Image

American Legion starting '100 Miles of Hope' for veterans and children

Image

Diversity Council hosts 'Allies and Advocates'

Image

More construction in downtown Rochester starts

Image

NIACC baseball pushing athletes to the next level

Image

Sunday weather

Image

Weather

Image

Rochester Area Restore celebrates 6 years

Image

Saturday Weather

Image

Grief mask making workshop

Community Events