Remembering Toni Morrison through her most powerful words
Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning-author Toni Morrison, whose masterful and groundbreaking contributions to literature explore the Black-American experience among other topics, passed away on Monday night at the age of 88.
The Beloved writer’s literary work consists of 11 novels, and a collection of essays and children’s books spanning over 6 decades. In 1993, she became the first African-American woman to receive a Nobel Prize for literature, and in 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.
Morrison’s spectacular ability to use words and craft stories in a way that not only captures the reader's heart, but summons their conscience, will never be forgotten. The author once famously said, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” What better way to honor her memory than by taking a look back at some of her finest pieces of language.
Here are 13 more of Toni Morrison’s most powerful quotes.
"If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it."
- 1981 speech before the Ohio Arts Council
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the sh*t that weighs you down.”
- Song of Solomon
"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.'’
- O, The Oprah Magazine
"Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined."
"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."
- Song of Solomon
“As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think."
“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.”
- Song of Solomon
"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
"Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another."
"History has always proved that books are the first plain on which certain battles are fought."
- Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”
"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. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God. You do not deserve love regardless of the suffering you have endured. You do not deserve love because somebody did you wrong. You do not deserve love just because you want it. You can only earn — by practice and careful contemplations — the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it. Which is to say you have to earn God. You have to practice God. You have to think God-carefully. And if you are a good and diligent student you may secure the right to show love. Love is not a gift. It is a diploma."
“The function of freedom is to free someone else."
- Speech at Barnard College