Wednesday 18 September 2019

'Beloved' author and Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison dies at 88

Praised: Trailblazer Toni Morrison. Photo: REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
Praised: Trailblazer Toni Morrison. Photo: REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Dean Grey

Toni Morrison, the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature, has died at the age of 88.

Morrison, who grew up in poverty in Ohio, took up writing relatively late in life - to "postpone the melancholy" of a failed marriage.

But her work came to enjoy great success, prompting the 'New York Times' to call her "the nearest America has to a national novelist". Despite good reviews, her first two novels did not sell well, and it was not until 'Song of Solomon' in 1977 and the Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Beloved' a decade later that her reputation was guaranteed.

She was no stranger to controversy. Though the Nobel panel praised a "literary artist of the first rank", some critics felt Morrison was the beneficiary of "political correctness".

Morrison fiercely rejected such accusations, and her admirers (who included not only Oprah Winfrey, but also President Bill Clinton and even Marlon Brando) felt she transcended race and gender.

Salman Rushdie wrote that her books, though "created out of black experience", "enrich the whole of literature".

However, she never forgot her roots. Of winning the Nobel, she said: "I felt representative. I felt American. I felt Ohioan. I felt blacker than ever. I felt more woman than ever."

Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931, in the steel town of Lorain, Ohio, where her family had moved to escape the racial tensions of the South. After her Master's degree at Cornell University, she went into teaching English. Her marriage to Jamaican architect Harold Morrison produced two sons, one of whom survived her.

Morrison resigned from her university job in 1964, and took a job as an editor for Random House, where she worked until 1983.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Morrison to the National Council on the Arts in 1980.

In 1984 she took up the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities at the State University of New York at Albany.

In 1989, she became the first black woman writer to hold a named chair at an Ivy League university when she accepted the Robert F Goheen Professorship at Princeton. She retired in 2006.

In 2012 president Barack Obama awarded Morrison the Medal of Freedom.

Irish Independent

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