Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote fiction that spoke to the soul of the black experience. Following her death on Tuesday at the age of 88, longtime friend Oprah Winfrey and former President Barack Obama— along with well-known authors, politicians and actors — expressed their love for Morrison’s lyrical prose and profound legacy.
“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,” Winfrey wrote on Instagram on Tuesday. “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.”
She concluded: “She was Empress-Supreme among writers. Long may her WORDS reign!”
Author of critically-acclaimed works like Beloved (which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988) and Song of Solomon (which earned her the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977), Morrison redefined black literature. During her 88 years, the mother of two wrote 11 novels and worked as an editor at Random House. She also taught creative writing and literature at schools including Howard University, Yale University and Princeton University, where she was the Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities.
“I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence,” Morrison wrote in a 2015 essay for The Nation when explaining the importance of art. “Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”
In 1993, she became the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Almost 20 years later, then-President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On Tuesday, Obama reflected on her “captivating” presence.
“Toni Morrison was a national treasure, as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page,” he tweeted. “Her writing was a beautiful, meaningful challenge to our conscience and our moral imagination. What a gift to breathe the same air as her, if only for a while.”
Toni Morrison was a national treasure, as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page. Her writing was a beautiful, meaningful challenge to our conscience and our moral imagination. What a gift to breathe the same air as her, if only for a while. pic.twitter.com/JG7Jgu4p9t— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 6, 2019
He isn’t the only one to mourn the great visionary. Here are other moving tributes:
Toni Morrison. While you have left the physical realm, the many treasures you left us will bear fruit for generations and generations. Your work has cascaded through my life deeply and simply...rest in power to a beloved icon. pic.twitter.com/YQPS3gR5Ml— Tracee Ellis Ross (@TraceeEllisRoss) August 6, 2019
"As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think."— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@RepRashida) August 6, 2019
Toni Morrison contributed more to society than words can describe. A Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winner, she wrote about Blackness for Black people. pic.twitter.com/t2GAiOYTWl
"If there is a book that you want to read but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it," Toni Morrison said.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 6, 2019
We are all so lucky to live in a world where she took her own advice and shared it with others.
RIP Toni Morrison. This is a devastating loss to the world of words, to our understanding of power and it’s reach, to the cultivation of empathy, to rich, nuanced, elegant storytelling. Her work was a gift to every one who had the pleasure of reading her.— roxane gay (@rgay) August 6, 2019
She made me understand“writer” was a fine profession. I grew up wanting to be only her. Dinner with her was a night I will never forget. Rest, Queen. “Toni Morrison, seminal author who stirringly chronicled the Black American experience, dies” https://t.co/S6qxix5OCj— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) August 6, 2019
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” Toni Morrison. I’m deeply sadden to share that one of our greatest writers and minds in American History, Toni Morrison, passed away at the age of 88. May God Bless Her Soul. pic.twitter.com/Dq1UL4ENIY— COMMON (@common) August 6, 2019
Toni Morrison will be remembered as one of the greatest thinkers and storytellers in our history.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 6, 2019
She gave us all so much, and her work continues to give throughout time. Thank you, Toni Morrison. https://t.co/XEDGNS7OXW
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) August 6, 2019
Holding all those touched by Toni Morrison in my heart today. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/2jkAvtaErK
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) August 6, 2019
I cannot imagine growing up in a world without her words. I pray you rest In Peace and in Power.
We will celebrate you with endless gratitude and love. Always.
#ToniMorrison has died. Just when we most need to hear her voice, she is gone. Thank you for the insights, the stories, and the poetry of your thought that have enriched us all these many years. Lay your burden down.— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) August 6, 2019
Her words were like mirrors to our collective souls. Like pillows to cushion the blows. Like mothers to wrap us in love. Like friends to hold our hands and see us through the darkness. #RipToniMorrison ❤ you. May we lift her up in the light of goodness and hold her there.— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) August 6, 2019
"And I am all the things I have ever loved: scuppernong wine, cool baptisms in silent water, dream books and number playing."— Viola Davis (@violadavis) August 6, 2019
Thank you for sharing your gift. Your writing was like a long love song to our people. Rest well Empress! ❤️🙏🏿 pic.twitter.com/D7Nh96PQlS