The event marked Morrison's retirement from Princeton University in New Jersey, the Trenton Times reported. More than 300 people -- including actors Morgan Freeman and Phyllis Rashad -- gathered in the Allen Room of Jazz for "Toni Morrison: Her Triumphs, Her Contributions, Our Future."
Morrison won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for "Beloved." Five years later, she became the first African-American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
"I thank you, my friend, for your great big heart and for using that and your mind to help us to see the grace we must all imagine," Clinton said as he concluded his remarks.
Morrison is expected to be given the status of professor emerita by the Princeton board of trustees. The tribute was sponsored by Princeton and its African-American Studies department.