Legendary writer Toni Morrison has died at the age of 88. She was the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but she will be remembered for much more than that. According to the BBC, her family said she passed away after “following a short illness.” NPR reported that she died in a New York hospital.
“While we would like to thank everyone who knew and loved her, personally or through her work, for their support at this difficult time, we ask for privacy as we mourn this loss to our family,” Morrison’s family said in a brief statement. “We will share information in the near future about how we will celebrate Toni’s incredible life.”
Born February 18, 1931, the Lorain, Ohio, native was known for classic books like “Song of Solomon,” “Jazz” and ” Sula.” Her debut novel was “The Bluest Eye” in 1970 and by 1987 she was the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for “Beloved,” which eventually became a movie by Oprah Winfrey in 1988.
To say that Morrison was outspoken on race would be quite the understatement. In the years before she died, she had plenty to say about the current president, race relations in the U.S. and the police shootings of unarmed Black people.
During the criminal trial of O.J. Simpson, Morrison appeared on “Charlie Rose” and offered comments on the racists association of Blackness with criminality. Though the words were about Simpson’s case, they applied all too well years later to the situation in Ferguson and smears against Michael Brown.
Back in 2015, Morrison said the conversation she wanted to have about race would center on the unfair treatment of Black people in the nation’s legal system.
“People keep saying, ‘We need to have a conversation about race,’” Morrison told the Daily Telegraph at the time. “This is the conversation. I want to see a cop shoot a white unarmed teenager in the back,” she said before adding: “And I want to see a white man convicted for raping a black woman. Then when you ask me, ‘Is it over?’ I will say yes.”
Morrison wrote an essay in the New Yorker in 2016 titled “Mourning For Whiteness” in which she stated that scores of educated and poorly educated White voters “embraced the shame and fear sowed by Donald Trump” because they’re terrified of losing their diminishing White privilege in an increasingly diverse America.
In 2017, Princeton University named one of its buildings after Morrison after calling on individuals on campus to suggest names of diverse historical figures or donors for certain buildings to be named after. Morrison joined the Princeton faculty in 1989 and taught creative writing and literature. In her role, she was a driving force behind the evolution of the school’s African American studies programs, as well as performing arts programs and other creative curricula. She retired in 2016.
Morrison is survived by her son Harold Ford Morrison as well as three grandchildren. Her other son, Slade, who she worked with on children’s books, died in 2010.
Social media was mourning Morrison’s death after it was announced. See some of the somber reactions below.