Pulitzer Prize winner
Morrison was best known for her 1987 novel "Beloved," for which she won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The novel, set after the American Civil War, is inspired by the story of enslaved African American Margaret Garner, who fled slavery in Kentucky in 1856 by going to Ohio. The book spurred the movie of the same name, which starred Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover and Thandie Newton.
Of her own writing and being labeled as a black writer, Morrison told The New York Times in 1987, "I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and as a female person are greater than those of people who are neither. I really do. So it seems to me that my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger.''
Nobel Prize winner
Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. She was the first black woman to ever receive the honor.
"We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives," she said in her Dec. 7, 1993 Nobel lecture.
In 1989, Morrison joined the Princeton University faculty as the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities. Not limited to Princeton, she held teaching posts at Yale, Rutgers and Bard College. Her own college education began at Howard University, where she got a bachelor's degree in English and returned to teach the subject in 1957. She then got a master's in American literature from Cornell University. Morrison had honorary degrees from a dozen other universities, including Brown, Columbia, Harvard, UPenn and the University of Michigan.
"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game,'" she said in a 2003 interview.
Morrison's awards and recognitions only came because of her gift as a writer. She wrote from the black experience at a time when even other black authors weren't. She started her first novel, "The Bluest Eye," in 1965 and sought to write from the view point of a black girl with dark skin who wishes for blue eyes.
"I guess I was just that arrogant. Nobody was going to judge me, because they didn't know what I knew," she told O, The Oprah Magazine in 2003. "No African-American writer had ever done what I did — none of the writers I knew, even the ones I admired — which was to write without the White Gaze. My writing wasn't about them."
"I decided I wanted to write a novel that was not a warning but was just literature, and I wanted to put at the center of that story the most helpless creature in the world — a little black girl who doesn't know anything, who has never been center stage," she said. "I wanted it to be about a real girl, and how that girl hurts, and how we are all complicitous in that hurt. I didn't care what white people thought, because they didn't know anything about this. This was the age of 'black is beautiful,' and, well, yeah, that is certainly the case; however, let us not forget why that became a necessary statement."