Today, February 18, marks the 82nd birthday of Toni Morrison. Morrison was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for her novel Beloved. She is the United States’ only living literary Nobel Prize winner (awarded to her in 1993).
Morrison was born ‘Chloe Wofford’ to working class parents in 1931. She grew up in Lorain, Ohio and converted to Catholicism at age twelve. Her baptismal name was “Anthony,” which is where “Toni” comes from; Morrison is her married name. In 1958, she married fellow Howard University professor Harold Morrison. The couple had two children but divorced in 1964.
In the late 1960s while a professor at Howard, Morrison began writing with an informal group of friends. She developed her first story there about a black girl who longed to have blue eyes. This story was the basis for her novel The Bluest Eye (1970). Other novels have enjoyed both critical and popular success, including Sula (nominated for a National Book Award in 1975), Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987) and Jazz (1992).
Morrison has been called a writer “who has enriched our literary heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work” and one whose “novels [are] characterized by visionary force and poetic import [and] give life to an essential aspect of American reality.”
Here are ten of the most memorable lines from Morrison’s works and lectures:
1. “Make up a story… For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.” ― The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993
2. “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.” - Beloved
3. “Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.” - Jazz
4. “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.”
5. “What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?” - Song of Solomon
6. “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
7. “Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another–physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.” – The Bluest Eye
8. “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.” - Beloved
9. “Gimme hate, Lord,” he whimpered. “I’ll take hate any day. But don’t give me love. I can’t take no more love, Lord. I can’t carry it…It’s too heavy. Jesus, you know, You know all about it. Ain’t it heavy? Jesus? Ain’t love heavy?” - Song of Solomon
10. “All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.”