Memorable quotes from Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison

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Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. The literary titan, who became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, was 88.

Celebrated and embraced by countless people, Morrison’s works tackled the hidden details about life for African Americans. Her first novel, “The Bluest Eye”, was published in 1970 and kickstarted her career of masterpieces, which spanned over four decades, including titles like “Beloved,” “Song of Solomon,” and “Sula.” She was also ahead of her time in figuring out how to maintain a work-life balance.

Morrison was the first female African-American editor at Random House. She held teaching positions at Howard University, Yale University, SUNY Purchase, Bard College, Rutgers University, SUNY Albany, and Princeton University. Morrison published 11 works of fiction in her career, most recently “God Help the Child” in 2015, and was admired by many including celebrities like Marlon Brando and Oprah Winfrey.

In 2012, President Barack Obama presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States.

The Morrison family released a statement through Morrison’s publisher, Knoph and Random House: “It is with profound sadness we share that, following a short illness, our adored mother and grandmother, Toni Morrison, passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends.  She was an extremely devoted mother, grandmother, and aunt who reveled in being with her family and friends. The consummate writer who treasured the written word, whether her own, her students or others, she read voraciously and was most at home when writing.  Although her passing represents a tremendous loss, we are grateful she had a long, well-lived life.”

Robert Gottlieb, her longtime editor at Knopf, added: “She was a great woman and a great writer, and I don’t know which I will miss more.”

In her Nobel Prize-winning speech in 1993, Morrison foreshadowed how we remember her today: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

These are some of Morrison’s most memorable – and powerful – quotes from her works and interviews.



“You wanna fly, you got to give up the sh-t that weighs you down.”

– Song of Solomon, 1977


“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

– Beloved, 1977


“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”

– Beloved, 1977


”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.”

– Tar Baby, 1981


“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.'”


From the November 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine


“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.”

– Songs of Solomon, 1977


“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.”

– From an interview with CBS in 1987


“Love is never any better than the lover.” 

– The Bluest Eye, 1970


“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

From Morrison’s Nobel lecture, 1993


“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”

– From her Ohio Arts Council Speech, 1981