Oprah Winfrey is mourning the death of Toni Morrison. The Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning writer passed away Monday evening in New York following a short illness, as previously shared by The Inquisitr.
Morrison was probably best known for Beloved, as well as the books Song of Solomon, Sula, The Bluest Eye, and Paradise, the latter four of which were featured on Oprah’s Book Club in the 1990s. It was the book connection that would bring Oprah and her idol together and spawn The Oprah Winfrey Show star’s role in the 1998 film version of Beloved.
After Morrison’s death was announced, Oprah took to Instagram to pay tribute to her longtime friend. Oprah posted a still photo from Morrison’s first guest appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, when the author was a guest on an Oprah’s Book Club segment in the late 1990s. In a poignant caption, the talk show icon described her late friend as ” a magician with language.” Oprah listed five of her favorite books by Morrison, several of them early picks from her book club, and noted that it is “exhilarating” every time she reads or shares Morrison’s works with new readers. The OWN boss also described Morrison as “an empress-supreme” among writers.
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In the beginning was the Word. Toni Morrison took the word and turned it into a Song…of Solomon, of Sula, Beloved, Mercy, Paradise Love, and more. She was our conscience. Our seer. Our truth-teller. She was a magician with language, who understood the Power of words. She used them to roil us, to wake us, to educate us and help us grapple with our deepest wounds and try to comprehend them. It is exhilarating and life-enhancing every time I read and share her work. This pic was her first appearance on the Oprah Show. She was Empress-Supreme among writers. Long may her WORDS reign!
More than 20 years ago, Oprah reportedly thought of choosing one of Morrison’s books when she first debuted her book club in 1996 but wondered if “the audience was ready.” She ultimately chose Jacquelyn Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean as her first book club pick, but followed up with Morrison’s Song of Solomon as her second book club selection in October 1996. Oprah once said Song of Solomon was so well-written and full of surprises on every page that “you just want to spoon-feed every word to yourself.”
The duo had a beautiful friendship as Morrison appeared multiple times on The Oprah Winfrey Show to chat books, life, and more. In one especially memorable appearance, Morrison asked Oprah’s panel if their faces light up when they see their children. It was an a-ha moment for many.
Desperate to discuss the book with Morrison, Winfrey used a surprising strategy to get in touch with the legendary author https://t.co/Y7VEaplpfC
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) August 6, 2019
But according to The Associated Press, Oprah’s friendship with Morrison actually dates back more than 30 years, to 1987, when after reading Beloved, the talk show queen was so determined to learn the author’s unlisted phone number that she called her local fire department in New Jersey to get it.
Once Morrison called her back, Oprah was so enthralled with her fast friendship with her idol that she talked her into letting her make a film version of Beloved– something that Morrison had reportedly never thought about doing. But Oprah used her persuasion skills cultivated on her talk show to give Morrison an offer she couldn’t refuse as she let her name her price.
“Happy to do it,” Winfrey told the Chicago Tribune in 1998. “From one black woman to another. I thought, ‘I can give you exactly what you ask for.'”
The film took 11 years to make. While Oprah utilized her acting chops for the lead role as Sethe, a former slave, Beloved was a box office flop, a rare miss for the talk show star. The day after Beloved opened, Oprah found out that the film she poured her heart and soul into was bested at the box office by a campy horror film.
“I got a call from someone at the studio, and they said, ‘It’s over. You got beat by ‘Chucky,'” Oprah told Vogue in 2017. “And I said, ‘Who’s ‘Chucky?'”
The Beloved disappointment didn’t put a damper on Oprah Winfrey’s friendship with Toni Morrison, however. In 2004, Morrison was one of a prestigious group of women at a 50th birthday luncheon for Oprah at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. People notes that the celebration also featured Diane Sawyer, Ellen DeGeneres, and Salma Hayek.
Two years later, Morrison was one of two dozen women chosen to attend Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball. The 2006 gala also honored 25 African American women who made a difference in arts, entertainment, and civil rights. In addition to Morrison, the guest list included legendary women such as Maya Angelou, Diahann Carroll, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Gladys Knight, Diana Ross, and more.
Last fall, Oprah also honored Morrison at a gala hosted by the Center for Fiction, which named Morrison the winner of a lifetime achievement award.
“It’s impossible to actually imagine the American literary landscape without a Toni Morrison,” Oprah said of her Nobel laureate friend. “She is our conscience, she is our seer, she is our truth-teller.”
And earlier this year, Oprah spoke about her close friend and mentor in the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.
“Toni Morrison’s work shows us through pain all the myriad ways we can come to love,” Winfrey said, per People. “That is what she does. With some words on a page.”
You can see Toni Morrison in a clip from The Oprah Winfrey Show below.