On Tuesday, August 6, the family of Toni Morrison confirmed that the acclaimed author had died on Monday evening. She was 88 years old, and left behind an expansive legacy of novels, essays, speeches, and interviews that, above all, explored the Black American experience.
Morrison's work was honored on every point of the literary and activist spectrum: She was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and countless others. She was also a Grammy winner and a freedom fighter.
Morrison wrote about the United States in a way that was truthful and unflinching. Her contributions had an immeasurable influence on the world, and generations of writers. The news of her death was received with collective mourning. From the authors who she inspired to the leaders and activists who admired her, words of reverence were shared for Morrison. Below are some notable commemorations that have been posted so far.
Shonda Rhimes (producer, writer, author):
"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."
Jeremy O'Harris (playwright):
"Like honestly has there ever been a baddie as bad as Toni Morrison? A woman who published her first novel at 39 after waking up every morning at 4 to write before getting her kids to school and going to work editing books by white men then ended up winning the full NOBEL PRIZE???"
Brittany Packnett (writer, educator, activist):
"May Ms. Morrison’s precise and profound clinging to the language of truth be a reawakening for any and everyone of us who is currently writing the historic record of any kind. Her truth should provoke us never to lie. Especially when humanity needs our truth most."
Sonny Mehta (editor-in-chief of Alfred A. Knopf publishing house):
“Toni Morrison’s working life was spent in the service of literature: writing books, reading books, editing books, teaching books. I can think of few writers in American letters who wrote with more humanity or with more love for language than Toni.
Her narratives and mesmerizing prose have made an indelible mark on our culture. Her novels command and demand our attention. They are canonical works, and more importantly, they are books that remain beloved by readers.”
Hanif Abdurraqib (poet, writer):
"I'm very sad. Toni Morrison is the greatest Ohioan who ever lived. No one was more important to my understanding of the fact that I could come from where I came from and write what I wanted to. I'm thankful for all she chose to share with us. I'm so sad about this news.
Toni Morrison taught me that writing about my people was a task that demanded a vast imagination. Vast enough to match the many selves of the many people I love. What a mighty life."
Karine Jean-Pierre (professor, activist, political analyst):
"Words are not enough to describe the remarkable life of the iconic Toni Morrison. As a young black girl trying to find myself her literary genius changed and guided my young life. Rest in Power."
Stacey Abrams (writer, political activist, Georgia politician):
"Toni Morrison was a towering intellect, a brilliant scribe of our nation’s complex stories, a heartbreaking journalist of our deepest desires, and a groundbreaking author who destroyed precepts, walls and those who dared underestimate her capacity. Rest well and in peace."
Roxane Gay (writer):
"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."
Danez Smith (poet):
"Toni Morrison came down and lived a mighty life. I’m sad her family and the world has lost her. Glad she gets to return home. May we live and write in ways that honor her love for us, her demand that the world see black people wholly, her rigor, her genius, her play, her legacy.
And you best always remember: the best writer the world has ever seen was a Black woman from the Midwest writing about Black peoples. Toni Morrison lives on thru how she shattered and remade the world."
Countless others have also paid tribute to the author. To lose Morrison now, in a moment where it feels like there is too much grief and pain to handle, we can take comfort in her own words:
"There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal," Morrison wrote for The Nation in 2015.
"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. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art."