Toni Morrison, considered by many to be among the most important writers of the past century, died on Monday, August 5 at age 88, NPR reports. The author of such books as Beloved, Song of Solomon, and The Bluest Eye was known for spotlighting the black American experience in her work, and she was the first black woman to receive a Nobel Prize for literature.

Born in Ohio in 1931, Morrison started writing professionally in the 1970s. Her debut novel, The Bluest Eye, is hailed as a modern classic today, but it didn't sell well when it was first published. Morrison found more success with her follow-up works: Her second novel, Sula, was nominated for the National Book Award, and her next book, Song of Solomon, won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Beloved, Morrison's 1987 novel based on the true story of an enslaved black woman, is perhaps her best-known work. After it failed to win either the National Book Award or the National Book Critics Circle Award, a group of black critics and writers, including Maya Angelou and Alice Walker, published a statement criticizing the oversight. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction a few months later. In 1993, the Nobel committee recognized Morrison's achievements by awarding her the Nobel Prize for literature.

Along with her mastery of the craft of writing, Toni Morrison has been praised for adding black stories to the overwhelmingly white world of literature. "Being a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from," she told The New Yorker in 2003. "It doesn’t limit my imagination; it expands it. It’s richer than being a white male writer because I know more and I’ve experienced more.”

Morrison died at Montefiore Medical Center in New York following a brief illness, according to a statement released by her publisher. She is survived by her son and grandchildren.

[h/t NPR]