“Time is no match for Toni Morrison. In her writing, she sometimes toyed with it, warping and creasing it, bending it to her masterful will. In her life’s story, too, she treated time nontraditionally,” the 44th U.S. President wrote on his social media accounts, crafting an obituary-style tribute for the “Beloved” author.
“A child of the Great Migration who’d lifted up new, more diverse voices in American literature as an editor, Toni didn’t publish her first novel until she was 39 years old. From there followed an ascendant career—a Pulitzer, a Nobel, and so much more—and with it, a fusion of the African American story within the American story.
“Toni Morrison was a national treasure. Her writing was not just beautiful but meaningful—a challenge to our conscience and a call to greater empathy. She was as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page. And so even as Michelle and I mourn her loss and send our warmest sympathies to her family and friends, we know that her stories—that our stories—will always be with us, and with those who come after, and on and on, for all time,” he added.
Morrison was the first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize and after reading her work, Obama famously said that her 1977 novel “Song of Solomon” “taught him how to be.” In 2012, he also awarded the prolific writer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the country can bestow, along with musician Bob Dylan, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Justice Department civil rights lawyer John Doar and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
That moment was made indelible in a tender photo the president shared on Tuesday showing himself leaning over a seated Morrison in the Oval Office.
At the 2012 ceremony, Obama mentioned Morrison’s late-in-life career that began with her work at a publishing house as a single mom with two children.
“(Her) circumstances may not have been ideal but the words that came out were magical,” Obama said at the time. “Toni Morrison’s prose brings us that kind of moral and emotional intensity that few writers ever attempt. From ‘Song of Solomon’ to ‘Beloved,’ Toni reaches us deeply using a tone that is lyrical, precise, distinct and inclusive. She believes that language arcs toward the place where meaning might lie. The rest of us are lucky to be following along for the ride.”
When it came time to bestow her with the pin, the duo held hands, brightly smiling.
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