Notable Quotes
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All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.

TONI MORRISON, Online NewsHour interview, Mar. 9, 1998

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.


Do they still call it infatuation? That magic ax that chops away the world in one blow, leaving only the couple standing there trembling? Whatever they call it, it leaps over anything, takes the biggest chair, the largest slice, rules the ground wherever it walks, from a mansion to a swamp, and its selfishness is its beauty.... People with no imagination feed it with sex -- the clown of love. They don't know the real kinds, the better kinds, where losses are cut and everybody benefits. It takes a certain intelligence to love like that -- softly, without props.


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.


If a Negro got legs he ought to use them. Sit down too long, somebody will figure out a way to tie them up.


Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.

TONI MORRISON, Nobel Lecture, Dec. 7, 1993

An innocent man is a sin before God. Inhuman and therefore untrustworthy. No man should live without absorbing the sins of his kind, the foul air of his innocence, even if it did wilt rows of angel trumpets and cause them to fall from their vines.


I'm interested in the way in which the past affects the present and I think that if we understand a good deal more about history, we automatically understand a great more about contemporary life.

TONI MORRISON, Time interview, Jan. 21, 1998

A dead language is not only one no longer spoken or written, it is unyielding language content to admire its own paralysis. Like statist language, censored and censoring. Ruthless in its policing duties, it has no desire or purpose other than maintaining the free range of its own narcotic narcissism, its own exclusivity and dominance. However moribund, it is not without effect for it actively thwarts the intellect, stalls conscience, suppresses human potential. Unreceptive to interrogation, it cannot form or tolerate new ideas, shape other thoughts, tell another story, fill baffling silences.

TONI MORRISON, Nobel Lecture, Dec. 7, 1993

I often think about rewriting or continuing the life of particular characters in subsequent books, but I have found that it's a kind of trap because you never really go on to another topic.

TONI MORRISON, Time interview, Jan. 21, 1998

The Nobel Prize is the best thing that can happen to a writer in terms of how it affects your contracts, the publishers, and the seriousness with which your work is taken. On the other hand, it does interfere with your private life, or it can if you let it, and it has zero effect on the writing.It doesn't help you write better and if you let it, it will intimidate you about future projects.

TONI MORRISON, Time interview, Jan. 21, 1998

What I think the political correctness debate is really about is the power to be able to define. The definers want the power to name. And the defined are now taking that power away from them.

TONI MORRISON, New York Times Magazine, Sep. 11, 1994

All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.

TONI MORRISON, Rita Dove's Grace Notes

How soon country people forget. When they fall in love with a city it is forever, and it is like forever. As though there never was a time when they didn't love it. The minute they arrive at the train station or get off the ferry and glimpse the wide streets and the wasteful lamps lighting them, they know they are born for it. There, in a city, they are not so much new as themselves: their stronger, riskier selves.


In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.

TONI MORRISON, The Guardian, Jan. 29, 1992

For me, Art is the restoration of order. It may discuss all sort of terrible things, but there must be satisfaction at the end. A little bit of hunger, but also satisfaction.

TONI MORRISON, interview with Don Swaim, 1987

I know there are authors who find it healthier for them, in their creative process, to just not look at any reviews, or bad reviews, or they have them filtered, because sometimes they are toxic for them. I don't agree with that kind of isolation. I'm very much interested in how African-American literature is perceived in this country, and written about, and viewed. It's been a long, hard struggle, and there's a lot of work yet to be done. I'm especially interested in how women's fiction is reviewed and understood. And the best way to do that is to read my own reviews.

TONI MORRISON, Salon interview, Feb. 1998

What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?

TONI MORRISON, Song of Solomon

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.

TONI MORRISON, interview with Don Swaim, 1987

In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can't take positions that are closed. Everything I've ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book -- leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, revisitation, a little ambiguity.

TONI MORRISON, Salon interview, Feb. 1998

I think women dwell quite a bit on the duress under which they work, on how hard it is just to do it at all. We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I'm not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for all that.

TONI MORRISON, Newsweek, Mar. 30, 1981

I didn't plan on either children or writing. Once I realized that writing satisfied me in some enormous way, I had to make adjustments. The writing was always marginal in terms of time when the children were small. But it was major in terms of my head. I always thought that women could do a lot of things. All the women I knew did nine or ten things at one time. I always understood that women worked, they went to church, they managed their houses, they managed somebody else's houses, they raised their children, they raised somebody else's children, they taught. I wouldn't say it's not hard, but why wouldn't it be? All important things are hard.

TONI MORRISON, Essence magazine, Feb. 1998

Racists always try to make you think they are the majority, but they never are.

TONI MORRISON, interview with Eugene Redmond, Toni Morrison: Conversations

Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can't nobody fly with all that sh*t. Wanna fly, you got to give up the sh*t that weighs you down.

TONI MORRISON, Song of Solomon

If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it.

TONI MORRISON, attributed, Ebony, October 1988

Outside, snow solidified itself into graceful forms. The peace of winter stars seemed permanent.


Sweet, crazy conversations full of half sentences, daydreams and misunderstandings more thrilling than understanding could ever be.


I always looked upon the acts of racist exclusion, or insult, as pitiable, from the other person. I never absorbed that. I always thought that there was something deficient -- intellectual, emotional -- about such people.

TONI MORRISON, interview with Zia Jaffrey, Toni Morrison: Conversations

Like any artist without an art form, she became dangerous.


A man ain't nothing but a man. But a son? Well, now, that's somebody.



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