Toni Morrison, the celebrated novelist who became the first black woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature, died Monday night according to a source at her publisher, Knopf, reports Vulture. The cause of death has not been confirmed. She was 88 years old.
Born Chloe Ardella Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, Morrison published 11 novels throughout her illustrious career, which often explored themes of racism, the black experience, black womanhood, and family dynamics. She also wrote five children’s books, two plays, a song cycle, and an opera.
Morrison was best known for the 1987 novel Beloved, which is based on the true story of a slave mother who killed her daughter so that she could escape slavery. The critically acclaimed best-selling book won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was later adapted into a film starring Oprah Winfrey in 1998.
Morrison began writing because she was frustrated by the lack of stories focused on black people. She published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970, which depicts a young African American girl who thought that having blue eyes would make her life easier. “I wanted to read this book and no one had written it, so I thought that maybe I would write it in order to read it,” Morrison told The Guardian in 2015.
The revered writer published her last book, God Help the Child, in 2015, telling the story of race, responsibility, and self-acceptance through the pain-stricken eyes of a child. “I wanted to focus in this book about the confusion there is about race. This girl is abused by her mother because she was born really black, so I wanted her journey to be about becoming a three-dimensional human being,” Morrison told The New York Times.
Before becoming a world-renowned author, Morrison earned a B.A. in English from Howard University and a master’s degree from Cornell. She initially pursued a career in education, teaching at Texas Southern University and then at Howard. Later, she landed a role as an editor for Random House, where she worked for 19 years and broke barriers for other writers of color like Toni Cade Bambara, Gayl Jones, and Angela Davis.
In 1980, Morrison was appointed to the National Council on the Arts. She won the Noble Prize in Literature in 1993. She was also the Chair of Humanities at Princeton, where she taught from 1989 to 2006.
Morrison’s list of accolades also includes the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, the 1996 National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015 for her work as an editor, author, and professor. Earlier this year, a documentary on Morrison, The Pieces I Am, highlighted her life.