Toni Morrison, the Nobel laureate, has died aged 88.
She was the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf confirmed Morrison died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
In a statement the author’s family said: “Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends.
“She was an extremely devoted mother, grandmother, and aunt who reveled in being with her family and friends. The consummate writer who treasured the written word, whether her own, her students or others, she read voraciously and was most at home when writing.”
Morrison was celebrated for novels including “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon”.
“Beloved,” which was inspired by the story of a runaway slave, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988.
In the novel a mother makes a tragic choice to murder her baby to save the girl from slavery.
Oprah Winfrey made Morrison an unofficial laureate of her book club, choosing her work a record four times.
Speaking last year, Winfrey said: “It’s impossible to actually imagine the American literary landscape without a Toni Morrison. She is our conscience, she is our seer, she is our truth-teller.”
She added that Morrison was the “the empress supreme of doing language”.
Morrison was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2012.
The author was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio to a working-class family of four children, later choosing to be called Toni, drawn from her middle name.
Her grandfather had been born into a slave family. He was about five years old at Abraham Lincoln’s issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed more than 3.5 million US slaves.
Morrison said she only became self-conscious of her race in 1949, when she enrolled at the traditionally black Howard University in Washington, nicknamed “Black Harvard”.
The new sense of exclusion and inequality would later become a cornerstone of her fiction.
In 2015 she said: “I am writing for black people in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old coloured girl from Lorain, Ohio.
“I don’t have to apologise or consider myself limited because I don’t write about white people, which is not absolutely true. There are lots of white people in my books. The point is not having the white critic sit on your shoulder and approve it.”