I know I haven't written much about Toni Morrison, but she's my favourite authoress of all time. I love her works and admire her, for the music in her language, for her compelling storytelling, for her vivid imagery and rich metaphors, for her shocking and thought-provoking and haunting stories, for her lively and convincing characters and her ability to see things from different points of view and to understand and help us understand her characters, and above all, for the inspiration she has given me.
"There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves; nothing that reminds us of the ones who made the journey and of those who did make it. There is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower. There’s no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence, or better still, on the banks of the Mississippi. And because such a place doesn’t exist (that I know of), the book had to."
"It’s true that when I first began to write, my work was much criticized—even despised I think—because I was not writing happy stories, about people who were able to put it all together in spite of difficulties, about people who had risen to a certain status. I realized that it was a problem, and I realized how important positive images could be, but I thought that nobody intelligent would take that seriously as criticism of a writer. If the critics felt that they could force me to “write positive images,” then clearly they assumed that I was writing for white people. It was a demand that I create an image for the “other” as opposed to my making an intimate and direct account to the people in the book and to black people. I thought the complaint was just headline stuff: things to say to reporters."
"I didn’t think about being a writer as a young person. I was content to be a reader, an editor, a teacher. I thought that everything that was worth reading had probably been written, and if it hadn’t somebody would write it eventually. I didn’t become interested in writing until I was about thirty years old. I didn’t really regard it as writing then, although I was putting words on paper. I thought of it as a very long, sustained reading process—except that I was the one producing the words. It doesn’t sound very ambitious or even sensible now. But I’m very happy with that attitude. The complicated way in which I try to bring the reader in as co-author or a complicitous person really stems from my desire to be engaged as a reader myself."
"It’s humiliating to be asked to write propaganda. That’s not literature."
"With regard to inspiration, I have to tell you that I was so self-conscious about developing a style of my own, about going to a place that I thought was virgin territory, that I was terrified of reading. Most writers don’t read anybody while they are writing, because they don’t want anything to rub off. I was very concerned about developing this sound that I thought would be my own. I was not convinced I had done it until Sula. That book seemed to suggest that I had hit on a voice that was mine, that I didn’t write like anybody else."
"Experience just for the sake of it is almost pointless. If you can’t make anything coherent out of it then it’s not information. It’s not knowledge. And it certainly may not be creatively handled. Some people sit on the edge of bank and fish all day. They don’t even talk and yet they’re complex and fascinating. You have to work within your own life.
My life now is as uneventful as you can imagine. And that’s just the way I like it. I’m interested in what I think. I’m interested in what I imagine. I am not fascinated with my autobiography however. I’m reminded of a number of biographies about the wives of great writers that I’ve just been reading. It’s amazing how the fecund imagination of certain powerful gentlemen has been in fact almost a theft of the fecund existence of the mate. So I don’t have an answer for you. If you find that your work is mediocre it may not be because you haven’t lived. It may be because you have not learned enough about the craft."
Some other quotes by Toni Morrison:
"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."
"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."
"Don't ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it."
"What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?"
"I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don't know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That's what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say 'people,' that's what I mean."
"Lonely, ain't it?
Yes, but my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else's. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain't that something? A secondhand lonely."
"Anything dead coming back to life hurts."
"And talking about dark! You think dark is just one color, but it ain't. There're five or six kinds of black. Some silky, some woolly. Some just empty. Some like fingers. And it don't stay still, it moves and changes from one kind of black to another. Saying something is pitch black is like saying something is green. What kind of green? Green like my bottles? Green like a grasshopper? Green like a cucumber, lettuce, or green like the sky is just before it breaks loose to storm? Well, night black is the same way. May as well be a rainbow."
"The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek - it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language - all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas."
"Every now and then she looked around for tangible evidence of his having ever been there. Where were the butterflies? the blueberries? the whistling reed? She could find nothing, for he had left nothing but his stunning absence."
"If you surrender to the wind you can ride it."
"All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us--all who knew her--felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used--to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.
And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word."
"It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow."
"Something that is loved is never lost."
"It was not death or dying that frightened him, but the unexpectedness of both. In sorting it all out, he hit on the notion that if one day a year were devoted to it, everybody could get it out of the way and the rest of the year would be safe and free. In this manner he instituted National Suicide Day."
"When I was a little girl the heads of my paper dolls came off, and it was a long time before I discovered that my own head would not fall off if I bent my neck. I used to walk around holding it very stiff because I thought a strong wind or a heavy push would snap my neck. Nel was the one who told me the truth. But she was wrong. I did not hold my head stiff enough when I met him and so I lost it just like the dolls."
"People say to write about what you know. I'm here to tell you, no one wants to read that, 'cause you don't know anything. So write about something you don't know. And don't be scared, ever."
"I don't believe any real artists have ever been non-political. They may have been insensitive to this particular plight or insensitive to that, but they were political, because that's what an artist is--a politician."
"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."
"If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."