The author believed in a language more political than poetic.
Toni Morrison in 1998. CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times
Toni Morrison was no stranger to death. Many authors write about dying — some, like John Updike, fixate on the afterlife; others, like Susan Sontag, fight illness until the end — but Ms. Morrison had a different relationship with mortality. Nearly all her novels are punctuated by deaths, and many are more peaceful than the lives that preceded them. The writer herself seemed resigned to it.
“We die — that may be the meaning of life,” Ms. Morrison said in the close of her 1993 Nobel Prize address. “But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
Ms. Morrison, who died on Monday at the age of 88, led a life so rich in language as to prove nearly immeasurable. Over a five-decade career, she chronicled the African-American experience in stories that spanned from 17th-century plantations to the Jim Crow-era South. In each, she stared unflinchingly at the violence wrought by slavery and racial hatred, an exercise that she called “writing without the white gaze.”
Ms. Morrison believed in a language more political than poetic. She bristled when called a “poetic writer.” Lyrical prose was less important to her than the human truths she confronted in her writing — the weight of black motherhood, the way faith endures in the face of trauma.