By Ron Wynn
Toni Morrison was a transcendent author and magnificent stylist whose work brilliantly fused fact and fiction, personal experience and insight with historical reflection and analysis. Morrison, who died Monday night at 88, won a host of major awards in her extraordinary career.
These included the Pulitzer Price for Fiction in 1988 for “Beloved,” a tale inspired by the true story of a runaway slave, and the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature for a distinguished host of achievements in the field. She was the first Black woman to win that honor,
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf confirmed news of her death. Her family released a statement Tuesday saying, “Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends. She was an extremely devoted mother, grandmother, and aunt who reveled in being with her family and friends. The consummate writer who treasured the written word, whether her own, her students or others, she read voraciously and was most at home when writing.”
Morrison penned 11 novels, plus children’s books and collections of nonfiction essays. One of her most poignant works was “Song of Solomon,” about a woman who murdered her daughter rather than let her be delivered into a life of slavery. That won the 1977 National Book Critics Circle Award.
Though she enjoyed both critical and commercial acclaim, with multiple best sellers, television appearances and becoming a tenured faculty member at Princeton, Morrison never considered herself a “celebrity,” and also never got so comfortable or successful that she kept silent about social issues.
She was also a mentor and inspiration to many other writers. When she moved to New York city in the late ‘60s and became a Random House editor she helped nurture and get published volumes by Angela Davis, Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara and Muhammad Ali.
“I look very hard for black fiction because I want to participate in developing a canon of black work,” Ms. Morrison said in an interview quoted in The Dictionary of Literary Biography. “We’ve had the first rush of black entertainment, where blacks were writing for whites, and whites were encouraging this kind of self-flagellation. Now we can get down to the craft of writing, where black people are talking to black people.”
One of the nonfiction projects on which she worked at Random House was “The Black Book,” published in 1974. Compiled by Ms. Morrison, the volume is a lavishly illustrated scrapbook spanning three centuries of African-American history, reproducing newspaper clippings, photographs, advertisements, handbills and the like.
She received the Medal of Freedom in 2012 from President Barack Obama, a fitting honor for one of this nation’s greatest writers and literary treasures.