Toni Morrison has died at the age of 88. The news was reported by the author’s publishing company Alfred A. Knopf, which stated Morrison died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, according to The Associated Press.
As the world mourns the loss of the beloved Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, below are five facts to know about Morrison.
She’s the First Black Woman to Win the Literary Nobel Prize
Morrison became the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993.
“I decided that … winning the (Nobel) Prize was fabulous,” Morrison told the AP in 1998. “Nobody was going to take that and make it into something else. I felt representational. I felt American. I felt Ohioan. I felt blacker than ever. I felt more woman than ever. I felt all of that, and put all of that together and went out and had a good time.”
She Wasn’t Always Interested In Writing
Despite her status as an iconic novelist, Morrison did not actually publish her first novel until she was 39 years old.
“I didn’t become interested in writing until I was about 30 years old,” she said later on, according to CNN. “I didn’t really regard it as writing then, although I was putting words on paper. I thought of it as a very long, sustained reading process — except that I was the one producing the words.”
She’s Been Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom
In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Morrison the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The designation is the highest civilian honor that can be given in the United States.
“I remember reading ‘Song of Solomon’ when I was a kid and not just trying to figure out how to write but also how to be and how to think,” Obama said of the writer’s 1977 novel at the ceremony.
‘The Bluest Eye’ Took a While to Gain Some Steam
When Morrison’s first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” was published in 1970, it was initially met with average reviews, CNN reported. However, the story of a young black girl named Pecola Breedlove and her desire to adhere to white beauty standards gained traction once it was placed on the City University of New York curriculum.
“I focused … on how something as grotesque as the demonization of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society: a child; the most vulnerable member: a female,” Morrison wrote in the forward of the 2007 edition of the novel.
Morrison Died After a Brief Illness
A statement released by Morrison’s family through her publishers revealed the famed author passed after short sickness that has not been disclosed.
“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,” the statement obtained by USA Today read. “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.”