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Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, author of 'Beloved,' has died at 88

She was the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature, which was awarded in 1993.
/ Source: AP (Associated Press)

The world is mourning the loss of a literary great after Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison died at 88 on Monday.

Publisher Alfred A. Knopf released a statement on Tuesday that Morrison died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York and her family confirmed the news with its own 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,'' her family said. "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."

Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988 for her book "Beloved," and then became the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. The Swedish academy noted her as an author "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."

She also was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2012. He shared a tribute to her on Facebook, saying, "Her writing was not just beautiful but meaningful—a challenge to our conscience and a call to greater empathy. She was as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page."

Oprah Winfrey, who produced and starred in a film adaptation of "Beloved" in 1998 and frequently had Morrison on her talk show, paid tribute to her on Instagram.

"In the beginning was the Word,'' she wrote. "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. She was Empress-Supreme among writers. Long may her WORDS reign!"

Winfrey was one of several luminaries from many fields to remember Morrison on Tuesday.

Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams described Morrison as "a brilliant scribe of our nation’s complex stories, a heartbreaking journalist of our deepest desires, and a groundbreaking author who destroyed precepts, walls and those who dared underestimate her capacity."

Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota shared a quote from Morrison and wrote on Twitter, "Holding all those touched by Toni Morrison in my heart today."

"May she rest in power," wrote tennis great Billie Jean King.

Actor Don Cheadle also tweeted, "and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest ..."

Morrison had her first novel "The Bluest Eye," published in 1970 and wrote 10 more novels focused on black identity and life in America.

"She was a great woman and a great writer, and I don’t know which I will miss more," Robert Gottlieb, her longtime editor at Knopf, said in a statement.

"Toni Morrison’s working life was spent in the service of literature: writing books, reading books, editing books, teaching books," Knopf chairman Sonny Mehta said in a statement. "I can think of few writers in American letters who wrote with more humanity or with more love for language than Toni. Her narratives and mesmerizing prose have made an indelible mark on our culture. Her novels command and demand our attention. They are canonical works, and more importantly, they are books that remain beloved by readers."

Morrison was also the first female African-American editor at Random House, a position she held from 1967 to 1983 and worked with notable writers, including Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, Gayl Jones and Muhammad Ali.

In addition to writing and editing, Morrison also taught creative writing and literature at her alma mater, Howard University, as well as Yale, Princeton, Rutgers and multiple other universities. She retired in 2006 as the Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities at Princeton.