Morrison, the author of such acclaimed books as Beloved (for which she won both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988), The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Solomon, has been a celebrated force in American literature for decades, helping to document the black experience in the United States from her unique perspective.
In 1993, she became the first black woman to ever be awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature and, in 2012, then-President Barack Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Describing her work ahead of her Nobel acceptance, the Swedish Academy, which bestows the prize, said it “gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”
The author was born in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio, where she was raised and lived until she enrolled at Howard University in 1949. Morrison went on to earn a Master’s Degree from Cornell and became a professor before becoming a book editor at Random House, where she helped to elevate a number of black writers like Chinua Achebe and Angela Davis.
She didn’t publish her first novel, The Bluest Eye, until the age of 39 in 1970. Oprah Winfrey selected both Song of Solomon and The Bluest Eye for her famous book club during her talk-show era, which helped bring Morrison’s work to a new generation of readers. Winfrey also co-produced a film adaptation of Beloved. “It’s impossible to actually imagine the American literary landscape without a Toni Morrison,” Winfrey said of Morrison in 2018. “She is our conscience, she is our seer, she is our truth-teller.”
In 2007, Glamour named Morrison one of its Women of the Year. In talking about her work, she said, “There were a lot of books by black writers that were very political and confrontational and all about guys. What about young black girls who had never been the center of anybody’s literary intention?”
“No one had written them yet,” she said, “so I wrote them.”
Morrison also wrote a number of children’s books and her last novel, God Help the Child, was published in 2015.
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives,” Morrison said in her Nobel acceptance speech.