Oprah Winfrey praises friend and idol Toni Morrison

Oprah Winfrey (Photo by Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Oprah Winfrey praised her late friend and idol, Toni Morrison, hailing the best-selling author’s “confidence and self-assuredness and nobility.”

Winfrey and Morrison knew each other for more than 20 years, dating back to when Winfrey was so determined to learn the author’s unlisted phone number that she called the local fire department. Winfrey said that when she started her book club in 1996, she was thinking of Morrison.

Winfrey recalled that when Morrison made her first appearance on “The Oprah Show,” she talked about raising her boys as a single mother and left many in the audience moved.

Winfrey said Morrison recalled that her boys used to complain that she would fuss at them when they entered her room, asking them to button their shirts or comb their hair. “What I realize is that what every child really wants to know is do your eyes light up when I enter the room?” Morrison said then.

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Winfrey said Morrison’s lesson that day was larger than about children. It was about husbands, wives, lovers and anybody we care about.

“That’s the great memory and gift that I think that she gave to me and the audience. I think people will read her books. They will feel whatever they feel. They will experience literature at its finest. But do your eyes light up when I enter the room?” Winfrey said.

Morrison, the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, died Monday night at 88. Winfrey was attending the premiere for her latest show on OWN, “David Makes Man,” in Los Angeles on Tuesday. She and Michael B. Jordan serve as executive producers of the series, which debuts Aug. 14.

“Words don’t seem adequate enough,” said Jordan. “They don’t seem like they’re enough for what she’s done. The legacy that she leaves behind, the inspiration that she was so many people and natural born activist leader. Yes, she’s an amazing soul.”