Toni Morrison was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction yesterday for her novel "Beloved," a complex fable about slavery and liberation of the slaves a century ago.

The Morrison prize followed protests from black writers and academics when the widely praised "Beloved" did not win either the National Book or the National Book Critics Circle awards this year. Pulitzer board members said they knew of the controversy, but that it did not affect their choice in that category.

The Pulitzer board, which awards 14 prizes for journalism and seven in the arts, gave its top journalism prize for public service to The Charlotte Observer for its coverage of the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker scandal "conducted in the face of a massive campaign by the PTL {the Bakkers' former ministry} to discredit the newspaper," as the board noted.

Tom Shales, 43, of The Washington Post, won for his television criticism.

Wall Street Journal reporters won two prizes. James B. Stewart and Daniel Hertzberg won the prize for explanatory journalism for their coverage of the stock market scandals and upheaval last year; Walt Bogdanich won the specialized reporting prize for his investigation of faulty medical testing. Miami Herald journalists also won two prizes -- humorist Dave Barry for commentary, and photographer Michel duCille for feature photos. Doug Marlette, who spent half of last year at The Charlotte Observer before joining The Atlanta Constitution, won the prize for editorial cartoons.

Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times won for his coverage of the Middle East. Friedman shared the Pulitzer for international reporting in 1983 with Loren Jenkins of The Washington Post.

The Chicago Tribune, receiving its fifth Pulitzer in the last six years, won in the investigative category for reports by Dean Baquet, William Gaines and Ann Marie Lipinski on waste and conflicts of interest on the Chicago City Council. Jane Healy of The Orlando Sentinel won for editorials protesting over- development in Florida's Orange County.

Tim Weiner of The Philadelphia Inquirer won in the national reporting category for his coverage of the Pentagon's secret "black budget." The Inquirer has won 14 prizes in the last 13 years. Knight-Ridder, which owns a chain of papers that has scored well in the Pulitzers in recent years, won six prizes this year including those of the Herald, Inquirer, Charlotte Observer and the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press Dispatch.

Jacqui Banaszynski of the Pioneer Press Dispatch won in the feature category for her "moving series about the life and death of an AIDS victim in a rural farm community," the board said.

Two smaller papers shared the prize for general news reporting. The Alabama Journal, circulation 21,000, won for an investigation of the state's unusually high infant mortality rate. The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune in Massachusetts, circulation 60,000, won for an investigation of the state prison furlough system.

The prize for spot news photography went to Scott Shaw of The Odessa (Texas) American for his photos of the rescue of Jessica McClure from a well shaft in Midland, Tex.

Shales, The Post's chief television critic since 1977, earlier won the American Society of Newspaper Editors writing award for his appreciations of various film and television luminaries.

"Tom dominates his field," said Benjamin C. Bradlee, executive editor of The Post, "so much so that he was named both best media critic and worst critic by top TV executives surveyed by Electronic Media magazine last year. His biting wit and love of television are awesome."

Earlier this year Morrison was the subject of a letter to The New York Review of Books signed by 48 black authors expressing outrage that the National Book Award and National Critics award had again been denied to a black. Writers June Jordan and Houston A. Baker wrote that James Baldwin, "posthumously designated as 'immortal,' " had never received a Pulitzer or National Book Award.

Morrison told the Associated Press that joy was uppermost in her feelings because "I really was thinking dark and difficult thoughts about what was available to this book in terms of recognition."

Pulitzer board chairman Roger Wilkins, the first black to head the board, said that although the Pulitzer judges were aware of the letter, "It didn't affect our judgment."

Morrison was competing with two other women authors for the fiction prize. They were Diane Johnson for "Persian Nights" and Alice McDermott for "That Night."

Asked whether getting the Pulitzer after the black protest would taint the prize, Wilkins said: "It's like the asterisk after Roger Maris' home-run record -- 61 home runs in a 162-game season. People will say that she won the Pulitzer Prize and in addition that year, she got an expression of enormous admiration and affection from some of the best black writers in the country.

"Not only could I live with that asterisk, I'd give my right arm for it," Wilkins said.

Henry Louis Gates, W.E.B. DuBois professor at Cornell and one of the signers of the letter protesting Morrison's lack of prizes, said yesterday that he and others had worried that the protest would insure that the Pulitzer board would deny the prize to Morrison.

"I'm ecstatic, I'm ecstatic," he said. "I decided it was more important to deny the evil, and I figured justice would out, and justice did."

Other arts prizes went to Alfred Uhry in drama for "Driving Miss Daisy." Robert V. Bruce in history for "The Launching of Modern American Science 1846-1876," David Herbert Donald for "Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe," William Meredith for poetry, Richard Rhodes for nonfiction, "The Making of the Atomic Bomb," and William Bolcom in music.

Among the most disappointed with the lists this year may have been the staff of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, whose entries made the finals in five of 14 categories but received the prize in only one -- the cartoon prize that was shared with Charlotte.

"I'm not greedy," said Bill Kovach, a former Washington bureau chief of The New York Times who has been editor of the Atlanta papers for about a year. "We won one Pulitzer, and I'll take all I can get."

Perhaps the most ironic of awards went to humorist Dave Barry, whose column on the Pulitzers last year has been photocopied and treasured by many journalists who have agonized over the awards process.

The column, which was part of Barry's entry, said that many Pulitzer entries were so long and complicated that they should bear the warning: "Caution! Journalism Prize Entry! Do Not Read!"

Reached by telephone last night at a celebratory party, Barry was reminded that in the same column, he promised to share the $1,000 Pulitzer Prize (it's since grown to $3,000) with the judges.

"It's a lucky thing I'm a liar," he said. "This is the end of a prestigious journalism prize. When their own judges don't take it seriously, who will?"

Pulitzer prizes in journalism, letters and music have been awarded each year since 1917, under terms set in the will of editor and publisher Joseph Pulitzer. Since 1947 the prizes have been awarded by the trustees of Columbia University and administered by the university's Graduate School of Journalism.

This year's winners:

Public Service: The Charlotte Observer

General News Reporting: The Alabama Journal, Montgomery, Ala., and Lawrence, Mass., Eagle-Tribune

Investigative Reporting: Dean Baquet, William Gaines and Ann Marie Lipinski, Chicago Tribune

Explanatory Journalism: Daniel Hertzberg and James B. Stewart, The Wall Street Journal

Specialized Reporting: Walt Bogdanich, The Wall Street Journal

National Reporting: Tim Weiner, The Philadelphia Inquirer

International Reporting: Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times

Feature Writing: Jacqui Banaszynski, the St. Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch

Commentary: Dave Barry, The Miami Herald

Criticism: Tom Shales, The Washington Post

Editorial Writing: Jane Healy, The Orlando Sentinel

Editorial Cartooning: Doug Marlette, The Atlanta Constitution and The Charlotte Observer

Spot News Photography: Scott Shaw, The Odessa, Tex., American

Feature Photography: Michel duCille, The Miami Herald

ARTS

Fiction: "Beloved," by Toni Morrison

Drama: "Driving Miss Daisy," by Alfred Uhry

History: "The Launching of Modern American Science, 1846-1876," by Robert V. Bruce

Biography: "Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe," By David Herbert Donald

Poetry: "Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems," by William Meredith

General Nonfiction: "The Making of the Atomic Bomb," by Richard Rhodes

Music: "12 New Etudes for Piano," by William Bolcom