Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford) passed away August 5, 2019, at the age of 88. She was an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher and professor emeritus at Princeton University. Toni Morrison was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. In 1996, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected her for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honour of achievement in the humanities. She contributed to the literary world for over six decades and her accolades also included the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The first book that I read of Toni Morrison is called Songs of Solomon followed by Sula, Jazz and God help the child. I often looked to Toni Morrison for wisdom both within the pages of her work and her stirring speeches. She is such a big inspiration and motivator throughout my life. This quote always stayed with me “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. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.” ― Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993 – If you would ask me why? My answer would be I don’t know. But I do know that when I read it it was immediately engraved in my heart and I always felt I had to do something. I have to talk to people about the dark places and light places in the world. And whenever I meet a stranger or when I am having a conversation with my friends or family I always try not to tell people what to believe or what to fear. That is not my job. Perhaps I am interpreting her saying wrong it is what I feel and wish to do with it. It might even be one of the reasons I started this blog.
Here is a collection of the author’s most inspiring and powerful thoughts on writing, freedom, identity, love and more.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
“The writing is — I’m free from pain. It’s where nobody tells me what to do; it’s where my imagination is fecund and I am really at my best. Nothing matters more in the world or in my body or anywhere when I’m writing.“—During an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air in 2015
“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” —Beloved, 1987
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” — Song of Solomon
“If you’re going to hold someone down you’re going to have to hold on by the other end of the chain. You are confined by your own repression.”
“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.”
“The function of freedom is to free someone else.”
“Like any artist without an art form, she became dangerous.” ― Toni Morrison, Sula
“Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place–the picture of it–stays, and not just in my memory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think if, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.” ― Toni Morrison, Beloved
“Your life is already artful—waiting, just waiting, for you to make it art.” —During her Wellesley College Commencement address in 2004
“You think because he doesn’t love you that you are worthless. You think that because he doesn’t want you anymore that he is right — that his judgement and opinion of you are correct. If he throws you out, then you are garbage. You think he belongs to you because you want to belong to him. Don’t. It’s a bad word, ‘belong.’ Especially when you put it with somebody you love. Love shouldn’t be like that. 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. You can’t own a human being. You can’t lose what you don’t own. Suppose you did own him. 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? And neither does he. 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.”
“You are your best thing” ― Toni Morrison, Beloved
“Being a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination; it expands it. It’s richer than being a white male writer because I know more and I’ve experienced more.” —In a 2003 New Yorker profile
The author gave a speech at Portland State University, touching on the “distracting” nature of racism. “The very serious function of racism … is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary.” – 1975
On letting go:
“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. No record of it needs to be kept and you don’t need someone to share it with or tell it to. When that happens—that letting go—you let go because you can.” —Tar Baby, 1981
If you would like to know more about what kind of impact of Toni Morrison has made in the world here is a nice article to read about. It’s called surprise surprise: “The impact of Toni Morrison”