Toni Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford, in Lorain, Ohio, on the 18th February 1931, a novelist, professor and essayist. Morrison studied English at Howard University and followed that up with a master’s in American Literature from Cornell University. It was at this point she chose to go back to Howard University as a lecturer.
She began to publish work in 1970, with her first novel called The Bluest Eye, followed by Song of Solomon in 1977, which won critical acclaim and awards. This elevated Tony Morrison to the attention of the nation and wider world. In the following years, she achieved the accolade of being the first black female editor in fiction at Random House, New York City, building her reputation as an editor and author. This was followed by Beloved, her celebrated work that was turned into a 1998 film.
In 1988, she won possibly the highest prize for literature, the Pulitzer Prize, for her novel Beloved, followed by the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. In her later life, she received recognition from the US government, including receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2012.
Please see a selection of her quotes below and we hope they inspire you to research her work.
1. You are your best thing.
2. The function of freedom is to free someone else.
3. If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
4. If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.
5. Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.
6. You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.
7. Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you? You really want somebody like that? Somebody who falls apart when you walk out the door? You don’t, do you?
8. You can’t own a human being. You can’t lose what you don’t own.
9. Make up a story…For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light.
10. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.
11. As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.
12. What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?
13. Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.
14. Did you ever see the way the clouds love a mountain? They circle all around it; sometimes you can’t even see the mountain for the clouds. But you know what? You go up top and what do you see? His head. The clouds never cover the head. His head pokes through, because the clouds let him; they don’t wrap him up. They let him keep his head up high, free, with nothing to hide him or bind him.
15. Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind.
16. You’re turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can’t value you more than you value yourself.
17. Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly, but the love of a free man is never safe.
18. There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up, holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smooths and contains the rocker. It’s an inside kind–wrapped tight like skin.
19. Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another – physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought.
20. Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.
21. And I am all the things I have ever loved: scuppernong wine, cool baptisms in silent water, dream books and number playing.
22. She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.
23. Anything dead coming back to life hurts.
24. Let me tell you something. A man ain’t a goddamn ax. Chopping, hacking, busting every goddamn minute of the day. Things get to him. Things he can’t chop down because they’re inside.
25. To get to a place where you could love anything you chose – not to need permission for desire – well now that was freedom.
26. Something that is loved is never lost.
27. I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.
28. We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.
29. Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.
30. I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game. ‘
31. Anger…it’s a paralyzing emotion…you can’t get anything done. People sort of think it’s an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling — I don’t think it’s any of that — it’s helpless…
32. At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough.
33. Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.
34. Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.
35. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.
36. Some things you forget. Other things you never do.
37. It is sheer good fortune to miss somebody long before they leave you.
38. Writing is really a way of thinking – not just feeling but thinking about things that are disparate, unresolved, mysterious, problematic or just sweet.
39. The presence of evil was something to be first recognized, then dealt with, survived, outwitted, triumphed over.
40. What’s the world for you if you can’t make it up the way you want it?
41. How exquisitely human was the wish for permanent happiness, and how thin human imagination became trying to achieve it.
42. What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.
43. I’m not entangled in shaping my work according to other people’s views of how I should have done it.
44. I want to feel what I feel. What’s mine. Even if it’s not happiness, whatever that means. Because you’re all you’ve got.
45. I don’t think many people appreciate silence or realize that it is as close to music as you can get.
46. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.
47. Correct what you can; learn from what you can’t.
48. We never shape the world . . . the world shapes us.
49. The human body is robust. It can gather strength when it’s in mortal danger.
50. I get angry about things, then go on and work.
51. If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
52. Hate does that. Burns off everything but itself, so whatever your grievance is, your face looks just like your enemy’s.
53. When fear rules, obedience is the only survival choice.
54. The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.
55. A good man is a good thing, but there is nothing in the world better than a good woman. She can be your mother, your wife, your girlfriend, your sister, or somebody you work next to. Don’t matter. You find one, stay there. You see a scary one, make tracks.
56. When am I happy and when am I sad and what is the difference? What do I need to know to stay alive? What is true in the world?
57. You are about to find out what it takes, how the world is, how it works and how it changes when you are a parent. Good luck and God help the child.
58. Black people are victims of an enormous amount of violence. None of those things can take place without the complicity of the people who run the schools and the city.
59. This is the it you’ve been looking for.
60. Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this.