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Toni Morrison Dies at 88


Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist who conjured a black girl longing for blue eyes, a slave mother who kills her child to save her from bondage and other indelible characters who helped transfigure a literary canon long closed to African Americans, died Aug. 5 at a hospital in the Bronx. She was 88.

Paul Bogaards, a spokesman for the publishing company Alfred A. Knopf, announced the death and said the cause was complications from pneumonia.

Ms. Morrison spent an impoverished childhood in Ohio steel country, began writing during what she described as stolen time as a single mother and became the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. Critically acclaimed and widely loved, she received recognitions as diverse as the Pulitzer Prize and the selection of her novels — four of them — for the book club led by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

Ms. Morrison placed African Americans, particularly women, at the heart of her writing at a time when they were largely relegated to the margins both in literature and in life. With language celebrated for its lyricism, she was credited with conveying, as powerfully or more than perhaps any novelist before her, the nature of black life in America, from slavery to the inequality that went on more than a century after slavery ended.

Among her best-known works was “Beloved” (1987), the Pulitzer-winning novel later made into a film starring Winfrey. It introduced millions of readers to Sethe, a slave mother haunted by the memory of the child she had murdered, having judged life in slavery worse than no life at all. Like many of Ms. Morrison’s characters, she was tortured, yet noble — “unavailable to pity,” as the author described them.