NEW YORK/FRANKFURT •Toni Morrison, the first black woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature for her novels depicting the struggles of black Americans living in a white society ridden with racial discrimination, has died. She was 88.
Her death was reported by the Associated Press, which cited a friend. No cause was given.
The former Princeton University professor wrote novels that redefined the black American experience and portrayed social disharmony through the eyes of mainly female protagonists. From Pecola Breedlove in The Bluest Eye (1970), about an 11-year-old black girl surrounded by violence and poverty who prays for blue eyes she thinks will end her loneliness, to Sethe in Beloved (1987), about a runaway Kentucky slave who kills her daughter to spare her a life in captivity, Morrison's characters confront the burdens inflicted on them by a white culture.
"I would like to write novels that were unmistakably mine, but nevertheless fit first into African American traditions and second of all, this whole thing called literature," she said in a 1993 interview with Paris Review. "It's very important to me that my work be African American; if it assimilates into a different or larger pool, so much the better."
Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 for "novels characterised by visionary force and poetic import".
She won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Beloved and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour, in 2012, presented by former US president Barack Obama.
In 2006, the New York Times Book Review cited Beloved as the best American novel of the past 25 years.
Born Chloe Anthony Wofford on Feb 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, Morrison was the second of four children in a working-class family. She acquired her name Toni as an abbreviation of her middle name while at school, said a 2012 article in New York magazine.
In 1958, she married Harold Morrison, whom she later divorced. In the 1970s, she began to gain recognition, receiving an American Book Award nomination for Sula (1973) and winning the National Book Critics' Circle Award for Song Of Solomon (1977). She was named a distinguished writer by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1978 and was appointed by then President Jimmy Carter to the National Council on the Arts in 1980.
"We die; that may be the meaning of life," Morrison said in her Nobel Prize lecture, citing the folktale of a wise blind woman. "But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives."