Toni Morrison: a Personal Reflection

After the recent death of Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, our fiction selector Neil reflects on his memorable meeting with the literary great.

Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison has died at the age of 88. Many years ago I had the great privilege of running a book signing event for one of her novels. What I best remember is the way she could communicate to her audience even the darkest of events with great humanity and compassion. Though it was a long time ago, I can still recall how her presence lit up the room and how the audience hung rapt on every word she said.

Born in 1931, she said to biographers “Storytelling was part of family life.” After gaining a master’s degree at Cornell University she started a teaching and editing career before publishing her first novel, The Bluest Eye in 1970. What followed was a remarkable stream of stunning works, with razor sharp dissections of slavery and racism and their consequences for individuals and society. She was awarded just about every literary award available, including the Nobel Prize, the French Legion of Honour and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In our ever more divided world, her messages about the corrosive power of racism and slavery are as powerful and important as they ever were. For more reflections on Toni Morrison, visit The Guardian tribute page.