Toni Morrison was an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher and professor emeritus at Princeton University who graduated from Howard University in 1953, and further went to graduate school at Cornell University. In the late 1960s, she became the first black female editor in fiction at Random House in New York City. In the 1970s and 1980s she developed her own reputation as an author, and her most celebrated work, Beloved, was made into a film in 1998. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970 and the critically acclaimed Song of Solomon (1977) brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
She also won several recognition including 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 honor for achievement in the humanities. Also that year, she was honored with the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
Morrison also wrote the libretto for a new opera, Margaret Garner, first performed in 2005. On May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, she received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.
Morrison played a vital role in bringing black literature into the mainstream media. One of the first books she worked on was the groundbreaking Contemporary African Literature (1972), a collection that included work by Nigerian writers Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe and South African playwright Athol Fugard. She fostered a new generation of African-American authors, including Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, Black Panther Huey Newton and her works focused extensively on themes like: Politics, gender advocacy, advocacy for black women etc.
In honor of her tremendous impact on the literary world, we have curated TEN of our favorite quotes culled from her works. See below.
“ If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ― Toni Morrison
”I wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” ― Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
“Freeing yourself is one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self is another.” Toni Morrison, Beloved
“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 … it’s absence of control — and I need all of my skills, all of the control, all of my powers … and anger doesn’t provide any of that — I have no use for it whatsoever.”
“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.”
“ You are your best thing” ― Toni Morrison, Beloved
“As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.”
“From my point of view, which is that of a storyteller, I see your life as already artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art.”— “Be Your Own Story”, Wellesley College commencement speech, 2004
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” — from her 1993 Nobel Prize lecture
“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.”
Have you read any of Toni Morrison’s works? Which do you consider your favorite?