The publishing house tweeted the news Tuesday morning with a quote from Morrison’s Nobel lecture in 1993: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” Morrison was the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature, just one of many accolades over her long career, which have included a Pulitzer Prize and a Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed by Barack Obama in 2012. Though she also wrote nonfiction and other works, she was most famous as a novelist. Her most recent novel, God Help the Child, was published in 2015.
“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,” Alfred A. Knopf chairman Sonny Mehta said in a statement. “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.”
A documentary about Morrison, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, debuted earlier this summer and featured interviews with the author as well as with Angela Davis and Oprah Winfrey, the latter of whom starred in the 1998 adaptation of Beloved. Winfrey has chosen four of Morrison’s works for Oprah’s Book Club over the years—Song of Solomon, Paradise, The Bluest Eye, and Sula—more than any other author.