TELLING STORIES, CHANGING THE CONVERSATION

Iconic Black writer, Nobel Laureate, and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, Toni Morrison passes

in Highlights/In Memoria by

An African proverb goes, “When an elder dies, a library has burned down.” With the passing of American literary and cultural icon, Toni Morisson at 88, it seems that the core of literature as we know it, has cracked.

The first Black woman to win the Nobel in Literature, Ms. Morrison passed away at Montefiore Medical Center, due to complications of pneumonia. Throughout the world as people mourn, they more so celebrate her brilliance and the legacy she left.

Washing DC – May 29, 2012: Novelist Toni Morrison smiles as she is presented with a Presidential Medal of Freedom at a ceremony at the White House.

Shonda Rimes posted on Twitter:

She made me understand“writer” was a fine profession. I grew up wanting to be only her.  Dinner with her was a night I will never forget. Rest, Queen. “Toni Morrison, seminal author who stirringly chronicled the Black American experience, dies”

The forty-fourth US president, Barack Obama, who awarded Morrison the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 tweeted:

Toni Morrison was a national treasure, as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page. 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.

In reflection, Stacey Abrams said:

Toni Morrison was a towering intellect, a brilliant scribe of our nation’s complex stories, a heartbreaking journalist of our deepest desires, and a groundbreaking author who destroyed precepts, walls and those who dared underestimate her capacity. Rest well and in peace.

Morrison’s career

Ms. Morrison gave the world a brilliant opus with a list of novels and essays that explored love, identity, power and humanity through the Black experience. Unapologizing for saying that she wrote for Black people and was a Black writer, Ms. Morrison also is noted for ushering in the commercial visibility of a host of Black authors while working at Random House. After 20 years, Ms. Morrison left as a senior editor.

Following a career in publishing, Ms. Morrison stepped out as a full-time writer in her late 30s. From her first novel, “The Bluest Eye (1970)” to literary works such as “Song of Solomon (1977),” “Sula (1973),” and “Tar Baby (1981),” “Jazz (1992),” “A Mercy (2008),” and “Paradise (1997),” Ms. Morrison remained a force in her industry, which spilled over to discourse and movements challenging white supremacy and racism.

Her book, “Beloved,” was turned into a movie that was produced by media trailblazer and business magnate, Oprah Winfrey. The story centers a woman who escaped from slavery with her children and husband and the aftermath of surviving as a quasi-free woman in Ohio.

This summer, Ms. Morrison examined her life, her works and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career in the documentary, “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.”

Cherishing her career as an educator, Ms. Morrison was an English instructor at Texas Southern University (1955-1957) and Howard University (1957 to 1964. Before Ms. Morrison joined Princeton’s faculty to teach in humanities and African American studies, she was the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities at the State University of New York-Albany. 

While at Princeton, she created an interdisciplinary collaborative workshop series called, Princeton Atelier, which invited students and artists to interact and innovate together. Retiring from Princeton in 2003, its building West College was renamed, Morrison Hall in 2017. Today, Ms. Morrison’s papers are part of the Princeton University’s Library permanent collection.

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, Ms. Morisson received her B.A in English from Howard University, later earning an M.A. in American Literature at Cornell University.

She met and married Harold Morrison, an architect professor, while teaching at Howard University. They had two sons, but divorced in 1964.

Preceded in Ms. Morrison’s death is her son, Slade Ford, who passed in 2010 of pancreatic cancer. Slade and his mother co-wrote several children’s books. Ms. Morrison is survived by her son, Harold Ford Morrison, an architect like his father, and a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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