Toni Morrison redefined black literature with critically-acclaimed works like Beloved and Song of Solomon
Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote fiction that spoke to the soul of the black experience. Following her death on Tuesday at the age of 88, longtime friend Oprah Winfrey and former President Barack Obama— along with well-known authors, politicians and actors — expressed their love for Morrison’s lyrical prose and profound legacy.
“In the beginning was the Word. Toni Morrison took the word and turned it into a Song…of Solomon, of Sula, Beloved, Mercy, Paradise Love, and more,” Winfrey wrote on Instagram on Tuesday. “She was our conscience. Our seer. Our truth-teller. She was a magician with language, who understood the Power of words. She used them to roil us, to wake us, to educate us and help us grapple with our deepest wounds and try to comprehend them.”
She concluded: “She was Empress-Supreme among writers. Long may her WORDS reign!”
Author of critically-acclaimed works like Beloved (which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988) and Song of Solomon (which earned her the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977), Morrison redefined black literature. During her 88 years, the mother of two wrote 11 novels and worked as an editor at Random House. She also taught creative writing and literature at schools including Howard University, Yale University and Princeton University, where she was the Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities.
“I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence,” Morrison wrote in a 2015 essay for The Nation when explaining the importance of art. “Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”
In 1993, she became the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Almost 20 years later, then-President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On Tuesday, Obama reflected on her “captivating” presence.
“Toni Morrison was a national treasure, as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page,” he tweeted. “Her writing was a beautiful, meaningful challenge to our conscience and our moral imagination. What a gift to breathe the same air as her, if only for a while.”
He isn’t the only one to mourn the great visionary. Here are other moving tributes: