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There is a story Toni Morrison tells when she thinks back on her first novel, The Bluest Eye.
At 10 years old, she and her best friend were arguing about the existence of God. Her friend finally admitted to her, in a moment of emotional surrender, that there was no way there was a God because she had been praying every day for two years for blue eyes, and she did not get them.
There, Toni Morrison, as a little girl, sat across from her friend, who she described many years later as stunningly beautiful—almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones—and realized that there was so much wrong with the world they had to grow up in. America in the 1940s.
Years later, as a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author, Morrison came to refer to this ideology as “The Master Narrative.” The Master Narrative was the curse that oppressed Black children in America and led to the eventual madness of the main character in her first novel, Pecola Breedlove.
There are many hours of interviews with Toni Morrison online, and, in addition to her significant and gorgeous works of fiction, there is much to be learned from them.
The richness of her language and her brilliant insights were not dedicated solely to her books. They were a large part of her everyday conversation.
Here are 12 quotes from her to inspire, touch, and bewitch you:
1. “In this country, American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
2. “As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.”
3. “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”
4. “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
5. “You wanna fly, you got to give up the sh*t that weighs you down.”
6. “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?”
7. “What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?”
8. “Let me tell you something. A man ain’t a goddamn ax. Chopping, hacking, busting every goddamn minute of the day. Things get to him. Things he can’t chop down because they’re inside.”
9. “It is sheer good fortune to miss somebody long before they leave you.”
10. “I don’t think many people appreciate silence or realize that it is as close to music as you can get.”
11. “Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, stupid people love stupidly, weak people love weakly…”
12. “It is what you don’t write that frequently gives what you do write its power.”