Toni Morrison, 88, died this week, but she has left an indelible imprint on our culture. The best-selling author explored black identity in the United States, with a focus on the lives and experiences of women. Her work ignited thought, debate, and discussion of vital issues.
Born in Ohio, Toni worked in various areas of literature, from being an editor at Random House, to teaching at Howard and Princeton Universities, among others—and, of course, writing acclaimed and amazingly successful books. She authored 11 novels in addition to children’s books with one of her two sons and racked up accolades for her ability to spin intense stories that brought to light difficult social truths. Her work Song of Solomon earned the National Book Critics Circle Award.
She is perhaps best known for Beloved, which is based on a true story of an escaped slave who, upon her imminent recapture, made the unthinkable decision to kill her child, thereby sparing her from a freedom-less life. This book, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, was made into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey in 1998.
She became known for drawing upon the style of black oral tradition and for weaving nonlinear plots that pull the reader back and forth through history. And how beautifully it all came together: In 1993, Toni became the first African American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. When honoring her with the Nobel, the Swedish Academy praised her “novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import” and how she “gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”
In addition, Toni received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2012. But aside from the lofty awards, Toni’s daily impact on the life of her readers must be recognized. Her wise words appear often, taped to people’s walls or added to their social media feeds. This one seems particularly popular: “You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” This is a perfect example of her vision and ability to give voice to our collective emotions.