Toni Morrison: 1931 – 2019

By: Paul Duckworth, MLS


Toni Morrison, a giant among twentieth century American writers, died on August 5 in New York City.  She was 88. Words are hard to find today to sum up her life, her literary work, and her influence in this country and around the world. To say one thing is to leave something else out of perhaps equal importance. There is not time and space enough here to sum up this person.

She was: 

  • The only African American laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1993)
  • Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved (1988)
  • Honored with National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (1996)
  • Awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012)


She wrote eleven novels, nine works of nonfiction, five children's books, and two plays. She taught at several universities, including the State University of New York, Howard, and Princeton.

Remembrances and tributes poured in to the media:

"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."

--Barack Obama

"RIP Toni Morrison. This is a devastating loss to the world of words, to our understanding of power and its reach, to the cultivation of empathy, to rich, nuanced, elegant storytelling. Her work was a gift to every one who had the pleasure of reading her."

--Roxane Gay

"A towering figure in literature, Toni Morrison, has passed. Winner of the Nobel Prize, and keeper and storyteller for so much of our nation's soul, she was truly Beloved to us all. Rest now, and let us honor you as a nation eternally grateful for your contribution."

--George Takei

"Toni Morrison's Monumental Impact on Literature and Culture Will Be Felt For Centuries to Come."

--Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire Assistance Editor

"Thank you, Toni Morrison, for the beauty you revealed in our world."

--Tim Cook, Apple CEO

The Morrison family released this statement: "It is with profound sadness we share that, following a short illness, our adored mother and grandmother, 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. Although her passing represents a tremendous loss, we are grateful she had a long, well lived life." 

To hear Morrison's Nobel Prize in Literature acceptance speech in its entirety, follow this link.

If one has not already read her novels, where would one begin? Which to read first? BookRiot has provided a helpful guide. You can also check out Brodart’s selection list, Toni Morrison, 1931--2019, for easy ordering.