Closing The Gap

Kamala Harris, Shonda Rhimes, Stacey Abrams and others remember trailblazing author Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison attends the Carl Sandburg literary awards dinner at the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum on October 20, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois.
Daniel Boczarski | FilmMagic | Getty Images

Trailblazing author, essayist and educator Toni Morrison died Monday night at the age of 88, her family confirmed in a statement.

Morrison published her first book, "The Bluest Eye," at 39. She credited the late Maya Angelou with inspiring her to become a writer. "Maya Angelou helped me without her knowing it," Morrison said in a 1998 interview. "When she was writing her first book, 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,' I was an editor at Random House. She was having such a good time, and she never said, 'Who me? My little book?'"

In 1993, Morrison became the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. "I decided that ... winning the [Nobel] prize was fabulous," Morrison said, according to The Washington Post. "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."

In 2012, then President Barack Obama honored Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom award for her work and impact as an author and educator. "I remember reading 'Song of Solomon' when I was a kid and not just trying to figure out how to write but also how to be and how to think," Obama said at the ceremony.

Morrison earned a bachelor's degree in English from Howard University in 1953 and a master's degree in American Literature from Cornell University in 1955. She taught at Texas Southern University, Howard University and later Princeton University.

Many, including Sen. Kamala Harris, Shonda Rhimes and Stacey Abrams, took to Twitter Tuesday morning to share how they will remember the legendary author.

In December 2018, Oprah Winfrey praised Morrison for her work at a gala in New York hosted by the Center for Fiction, from which Morrison was receiving a lifetime achievement award. "It's impossible to actually imagine the American literary landscape without a Toni Morrison," Winfrey said. "She is our conscience, she is our seer, she is our truth-teller."

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