The Nobel prize-winning author of Beloved will be given the highest civilian honour in the US
The Nobel-winning author is one of 13 recipients of the prize this year, alongside Bob Dylan, former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright and Israeli president Shimon Peres, said the White House.
"These extraordinary honourees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our nation," said Obama. "They've challenged us, they've inspired us, and they've made the world a better place. I look forward to recognising them with this award."
The medal of freedom is for individuals "who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavours". Former literary recipients include Maya Angelou, whose "soul-stirring words have taught us how to reach across division and honour the beauty of our world", and EB White, author of Charlotte's Web.
Citing her works Song of Solomon, Jazz and the Pulitzer prize-winning Beloved, the White House called Morrison one of America's "most celebrated novelists". She won the Nobel prize for literature in 1993, becoming the first African-American woman to do so, for novels which the Nobel jury said were "characterised by visionary force and poetic import", and give "life to an essential aspect of American reality". Her latest book, Home, about an African-American veteran of the Korean war, has just been published.
The medals will be given out at the White House in late spring.