Toni Morrison, the award-winning American author of classic novels including “Song of Solomon” and “Beloved,” passed away on August 5, 2019, at the age of 88.
Morrison’s family released a statement through her publisher, confirming that Morrison had died after a brief illness. “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 published her first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” in 1970. Her works were celebrated for their focus on the African-American experience and culture. She wrote eleven novels, several children’s books with her son Slade, and essays.
In 1993, Morrison made history when she became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The organization’s website praises Morrison for her ability to give “life to an essential aspect of American reality” through “visionary force and poetic import.”
Morrison was also honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2012.
Here is a look at some of her best-known novels.
Morrison Won a Pulitzer Prize & the American Book Award For ‘Beloved’
Toni Morrison’s most well-known novel is probably “Beloved.” The book was published in 1987 and was inspired by the true story of a runaway slave, Margaret Garner. Garner escaped from a Kentucky plantation in the 1850s with her family.
When they were discovered, Garner killed her young daughter and tried to take her own life as well, preferring death over slavery. But she was taken into custody before she could hurt herself.
“Beloved” was adapted into a movie in 1998. Oprah Winfrey produced and starred in the film, which was nominated for more than two dozen awards.
‘Song of Solomon’ Was Published in 1977
“Song of Solomon” was Toni Morrison’s third novel and the one that garnered her national attention for the first time. It was published in 1977. It is a coming-of-age story focused on lead character Milkman Dead.
Dead’s tale begins after a man in his community, described as a “neighborhood eccentric” in the summary on the back of the paperback version. The summary explains that the man had hurled himself from a rooftop “in a vain attempt at flight.” Milkman Dead begins on a lifetime journey as “he, too, will be trying to fly” as he attempts to find where he fits in the world.
Flying is a crucial theme in “Song of Solomon.” There are multiple references to an old African folktale about slaves who were able to escape from bondage by flying back across the ocean.
“Song of Solomon” won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1978.
Morrison’s First Two Novels Were ‘The Bluest Eye’ & ‘Sula’
Toni Morrison was born and raised in the city of Loraine in northeast Ohio. After earning a master’s degree in English literature from Cornell University, Morrison taught at Howard University for several years before getting a job as an editor at Random House in New York City.
Morrison had loved to read from the time she was a teenager but did not begin writing seriously until adulthood. Her first novel was published in 1970, called “The Bluest Eye.” The novel takes place in Morrison’s hometown.
The main character is a teenage girl named Pecola Breedlove. She suffers a rape at the hands of her father and struggles to hold on to her sanity amidst her pain. The title is based on Breedlove’s desire to have blue eyes and lighter skin. The character believes that is the secret to feeling happy and being worthy of love. “The Bluest Eye” has been viewed as controversial over the years, especially by school librarians, due to its sexual content. PBS reported that it has often been on the American Library Association’s list of challenged books.
Morrison’s second novel, “Sula,” was published in 1973 and is also centered in Ohio. It’s about two female characters named Sula and Nel. They grow up in a community known as “The Bottom,” located near a town called Medallion, which has a white population. A review of “Sula” by Common Sense Media reads, “Parents should be prepared to discuss the issues the book raises regarding race, gender, feminism, marriage, friendship, death, murder, parenthood, poverty, and PTSD.”