Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison has died, according to a friend who confirmed the news to the Associated Press. She was 88 years old.
Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford, Morrison came to prominence on the literary stage with her critically acclaimed, best-selling novel Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Morrison’s work, including Jazz, Paradise, and her last novel God Help the Child, largely centered on black characters. Morrison’s deft portraits of the black experience have been crucial in expanding the purview of modern literature. In her 1992 essay Black Matters, Morrison explains:
Like thousands of avid but non-academic readers, some powerful literary critics in the United States have never read, and are proud to say so, any African-American text. It seems to have done them no harm, presented them with no discernible limitations in the scope of their work or influence. What is fascinating, however, is to observe how their lavish exploration of literature manages not to see meaning in the thunderous, theatrical presence of black surrogacy—an informing, stabilising and disturbing element—in the literature they do study.
But, of course, she faced criticism for focusing so keenly on black stories. During an appearance on Charlie Rose in 1998, Rose brought up a question another journalist previously asked her: “Can you imagine writing a novel not centered around race?” Rose tries to play devil’s advocate but fails at every turn with just how poignantly and beautifully Morrison attacks the question.
“I remember a review of Sula in which the reviewer said, this is all well and good, but one day she, meaning me, will have to face up to real responsibilities and get mature and write about the real confrontation for black people, which is white people—as though our lives have no meaning and no depth without the white gaze,” Morrison said. “And I spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books.”
As author Luvvie Ajayi so accurately stated on Twitter, “Toni Morrison is gone and the world got less brilliant.”