‘Beloved’ author Toni Morrison dies at 88

Morrison
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Toni Morrison reads from her novel “A Mercy” at Princeton University on Oct. 14, 2008.

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‘Beloved’ author Toni Morrison has died at age 88.

Morrison died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, Publisher Alfred A. Knopf said. She was 88.

The winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a Pulitzer Prize and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, according to Publisher Alfred A. Knopf.

In 2012, President Obama called her a personal hero. Her novel “Song of Solomon,” he said, taught him “how to be,” and the late poet and essayist Maya Angelou described her friend as having “the insight of a shaman and the lyricism of a great poet.”

Born Chloe Wofford, she changed her name in college: Toni from St. Anthony, when she converted to Catholicism as a child, and Morrison from an early marriage that ended in divorce.

She didn’t intend for Toni Morrison to be her published name, but when she finished her first book, “The Bluest Eye,” the galley read “A novel by Toni Morrison,” and by then the name had been recorded in the Library of Congress.

Morrison went to Howard University. She studied classics and joined a troupe of actors, who while traveling in the South, stayed in colored motels or in the homes of Zion or Baptist congregations.

She earned a master’s degree in American literature from Cornell University. Afterward, she returned to Howard to teach, meeting poet Amiri Baraka, aspiring politician Andrew Young, activist Stokely Carmichael and novelist Claude Brown.

In later years, she taught at Princeton, inspiring a new generation of writers with the moral imperatives of literature.

In 1968, she moved to New York, where she worked with Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali and Chinua Achebe and honed her own voice as a writer.

PRIZE-WINNING WORK

Her third novel, “Song of Solomon,” won the 1978 National Book Critics Circle Award, beating out Joan Didion’s “A Book of Common Prayer” and John Cheever’s “Falconer.”

With its simple dedication, “Sixty Million and more,” a reference to the number of Black people who died in 200 years of slavery, “Beloved” was as radical as it was profound.

“I certainly thought I knew as much about slavery as anybody,” she told the L.A. Times, “but it was the interior life I needed to find out about.”

When “Beloved” was not nominated for a National Book Award, intellectuals and writers protested “against such oversight and harmful whimsy” in a statement printed in the New York Times.

“For all America, for all of American letters,” the letter addressed Morrison, “you have advanced the moral and artistic standards by which we must measure the daring and the love of our national imagination and our collective intelligence as a people.”

“Beloved” won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Six years later, Morrison received the phone call from the Swedish Academy. Brodsky recalls how she and Morrison twirled around in an impromptu dance as the reporters waited outside her office.

She was the 11th American writer to win the Nobel.

A report from the Los Angeles Times was used in this article.

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