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“Beloved” US Pulitzer Prize writer Toni Morrison has died, aged 88

Acclaimed American author Toni Morrison, at the Enoch Pratt Library January 29, 1998.
Acclaimed American author Toni Morrison, at the Enoch Pratt Library January 29, 1998. Wikimedia commons/ John Mathew Smith

Black American writer Toni Morrison, whose prose garnered many accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature, has died, aged 88, according to her publisher.

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"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," said former US President Barack Obama on Twitter, calling her a “national treasure.”

Morrison won the 1987 Pulitzer for “Beloved”, a novel set during the US Civil War and based on the true story of a woman named Sethe, who killed her 2-year-old daughter to spare her from the pain of slavery. Her daughter’s ghost visits her after she is captured.

She was a commercial as well as critical success she became the first black woman to receive the Nobel in 1993 for her body of work. The Nobel organization said Morrison's novels were "characterized by visionary force and poetic import" while giving "life to an essential aspect of American reality."

Morrison’s lyrical style won over readers around the world, as she probed into the issues of race, gender and love, specifically in the United States.

"I read all the time but I was never in those books," said Morrison.

"Or if I was, it was as a joke, or as some anecdote that explained something about the main character without the main character looking like me," she said.

Morrison was born on Feb. 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, graduating from Howard University in Washington and then earning a master’s degree from Cornell University. She worked as a professor in universities and in publishing houses including Random House before she began writing her own books. Her only marriage ended in divorce.

Morrison’s first novel, "The Bluest Eye", was published in 1970 when she was 39. It was about a black girl who wanted blue eyes. She went on to write "Song of Solomon" (1977), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, "Tar Baby" and "God Help the Child".

She also wrote nonfiction books and plays, including an essay collection and literary criticism. Morrison’s play “Dreaming Emmett” was about Emmett Till, who was lynched in 1955 by a white mob in Mississippi after a woman said she whistled at him. His death, and his mother’s determination to have the funeral with an open casket, was a key moment in the US Civil Rights Movement.

Her award-winning “Beloved” novel was part of a trilogy that viewed love through the perspective of black history.

"Jazz” (1992) featured a love triangle during the 1920’s Harlem Renaissance in New York, while "Paradise" (1997) told the story of women in a predominantly black town.

In 2012 then-president Barack Obama gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"Her writing was not just beautiful but meaningful   a challenge to our conscience and a call to greater empathy," wrote Obama on Facebook in a caption of a photo of him and Morrison.

"She was as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page," he said.

US paper Washington Post said she died on Monday at a New York hospital. No reason for her death was given.

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