Author Toni Morrison has died. The Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning writer passed away Monday evening, according to a report from Vulture citing sources at her publisher. USA Today reports that Morrison died in New York following a short illness. A statement from her family revealed that the 88-year-old literary great was surrounded by friends and family when she passed.
“She was an extremely devoted mother, grandmother and aunt who reveled in being with her family and friends,” the statement read. “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.”
The family asked for privacy and promised to share information in the near future about how they will celebrate “Toni’s incredible life.”
Morrison, whose birth name was Chloe Ardella Wofford, is regarded as one of the finest authors of the 20th century and became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel prize for Literature. Over the course of her writing career, the Howard University and Cornell graduate would write 11 novels, with her most well-known being the Beloved trilogy, as well as Song of Solomon, Sula, and The Bluest Eye.
Morrison, the winner of the Pulitzer, the Nobel, the National Book Critics Circle, and a 2012 Presidential medal of Freedom, became a familiar friend to millions thanks to her close friendship with Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey featured Morrison’s books several times in her famous Oprah’s Book Club and also produced the 1998 film version of Beloved.
Morrison inspired millions of others. Writer and TV producer Shonda Rhimes took to Twitter on Tuesday to say that Morrison was her inspiration as a writer and that she grew up “wanting to be only her.”
Surprisingly, Morrison was nearly 40 years old when she published her first novel in 1970, CNN notes. After college, the future author married Jamaican architect Harold Morrison in 1958 and gave birth to two sons – Harold, in 1961, and Slade, who was born in 1964 and died in 2010 at age 45. Morrison divorced her husband after six years of marriage and took a position as a book editor at Random House in Syracuse, New York, where she worked for 20 years.
The Bluest Eye, Morrison’s debut novel about an abused black girl who longs for blue eyes, gained a large following when it was added to the required reading list at City University of New York.
As for her pen name, Morrison later expressed regret at using the name Toni, her high school nickname, for The Bluest Eye and her subsequent books.
“Wasn’t that stupid?” she once said. “I feel ruined!”
Morrison noted that the people who knew her best called her Chloe.