The first black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize, Toni Morrison, has died at the age of 88. Her novel "Beloved" won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.
Nobel laureate Toni Morrison died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, according to her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. Morrison received a series of honours during her lifetime, including the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends," the family announced.
"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."
No cause of death was mentioned.
Read more: The strength and compassion of Toni Morrison
Barack Obama honored the writer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 - the highest civilian honor in the US
Tributes quickly poured in for Morrison as soon as news broke of her death.
"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," former US President Barack Obama — who awarded Morrison the Presidential Medal of Freedom — wrote on Twitter.
"What a life, " wrote author Clint Smith on the woman whose books focused on black lives. "What a remarkable remarkable life. She not only changed the landscape of American writing, she changed the landscape of America."
"She wasn't just the queen of American letters," said bestselling author Ibram X Kendi. "She wrote America's letters. And whether we realize it or not, all Americans and all writers are indebted to Toni Morrison. Sleep well. We are eternally grateful for you. We are eternally grateful for America's letters."
Author Ibi Zoboi write: "For this I mourn. In white. A country's worth of libraries has fallen. She only lent us a few pages of all the deep wisdom she carried in her soul. She was a gift to this mess of a country, this mess of a world. She weaponized the English language with such grace."
Morrison was described by author Benjamin Dreyer as "eternally a giant of literature."
Morrison's most famous novel, "Beloved" was inspired by a harrowing true story which Morrison first thought was "inaccessible to art." Her other works included "Playing in the Dark," a collection of essays; "Dreaming Emmet," a play about the slain teenager Emmett Till; and several children's books co-authored with her son, Slade Morrison, who died of cancer in 2010. In 2016, she wrote a highly cited New York essay about the election of US President Donald Trump, calling his ascension to the presidency a mark of what whites would settle for to hold on to their status.
Toni Morrison also wrote about the horrors of slavery and racism with compassion and fury, questioning any simple notions of good and evil.
kw/msh (AP, AFP)