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Nobel Winner Toni Morrison Dies at 88

FILE - U.S. Nobel literature laureate Toni Morrison, seen in this May 29, 2012 file photo, received Distinguished Service Awards at the Authors Guild's 25th annual gala in New York City on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.
Nobel Winner Toni Morrison Dies at 88
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Toni Morrison, an American writer who received the Nobel Prize in Literature, has died at age 88.

Her novels, “Beloved,” “Song of Solomon,” and others explored the way African-Americans search for freedom and identity in a country obsessed with skin color.

Morrison’s family released a statement saying she died in New York Monday night after a short sickness.

“Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends,” the statement said. She loved the written word and “was most at home when writing,” the statement also said.

Morrison was nearly 40 when she published her first novel “The Bluest Eye” in 1970. Within 25 years, she would win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel Prize committee described her writing as “language itself, a language she wants to liberate” from race.

Her novels discussed America’s past, focusing on black history and the effects of slavery and racism on individuals. She called her characters “the unfree at the heart of the democratic experiment.”

In 1988, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel “Beloved,” the story of a mother who kills her baby daughter rather than permit her to be born into slavery. It became a best-seller and was later made into a film with Oprah Winfrey.

Many Americans admired her as the country’s greatest living writer, including former President Barack Obama. During his administration, he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S.’s highest civilian honor.

She was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, in 1931. Her father worked in a steel mill, and her mother was a maid. She attended Howard University, an all-black university in Washington, D.C. At Howard, she read African, British and American literature, including writers William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf.

“The writers who affect me the most were novelists who were writing in Africa: Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart” was a major education for me, she told the Associated Press in 1998.

After a short marriage, she became a single mother of two sons and worked as a book editor in New York. Several publishers rejected her first book, “The Bluest Eye,” but it impressed The New York Times’ book critic John Leonard who believed Morrison was an important new voice. He said her writing was “so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry.”

Morrison enjoyed her literary fame and was proud of her Nobel Prize.

“Nobody was going to take that and make it into something else. I felt representational. I felt American. I felt Ohioan. I felt blacker than ever. I felt more woman than ever. I felt all of that and put all of that together and went out and had a good time,” she said.

I’m Jill Robbins.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in this Story

novel – n. a long work of fiction

obsess – v. to think about all the time

character –n. a person who appears in a story, book, movie or play

editor – n. one who works to improve writing