SparkNotes Blog

Rest in Peace, Toni Morrison

Last night—Monday, August 5, 2019—the esteemed author, professor, and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison died at the age of 88. According to her publisher, she passed away in New York after a short illness, surrounded by loved ones.

She is perhaps best known for writing books such as Beloved, The Bluest Eye, and Song of Solomon. Her prose often wove together elements both magical and historical, building narratives that were not only surreal but also harrowing. Her words—luminous, poetic, and hauntingly resonant—forced audiences to recognize, confront, and engage with the horrors of slavery, as well as the legacy it left behind in a society that preferred not to think about it.

Morrison was the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize, for which she was recognized as an author “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” She was also the first black woman to work as an editor at Random House, where she published the work of writers like Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara, Henry Dumas, Huey P. Newton, Muhammad Ali, and Angela Davis. She taught creative writing and literature at Howard University (her alma mater), Yale, SUNY Purchase, Bard, Rutgers, SUNY Albany, and Princeton until her retirement in 2006.

“We die. That may be the meaning of life,” she said in her Nobel Prize lecture in 1993. “But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”