Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am - 15 Toni Morrison Quotes About Race, Writing and Love

Toni Morrison in 1981. Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.

Toni Morrison was inspired to write because no one took a “little Black girl” seriously. She published 11 acclaimed novels that illuminate the experiences of Black America and inspired generations of writers. According to her good friend Fran Lebowitz, the legendary Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author was, more than most people, wise.

1) 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 Prize acceptance speech.

2) “Love is divine only and difficult always.”

From Morrison’s novel Paradise.

3) “What’s the world for you if you can’t make it up the way you want it?”

From Morrison’s novel Jazz.

4) “I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.

From Morrison’s novel Jazz.

5) “I didn’t want to speak for Black people and I wanted to speak to, and to be among them… it’s us. So the first thing I had to do was to eliminate the white gaze.”

From the documentary film Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.

6) “Navigating a white male world was not threatening. It wasn’t even interesting. I was more interesting than they were. I knew more than they did. And I wasn’t afraid to show it.”

From the documentary film Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.

7) “For me the history of the place of Black people in this country is so varied, complex and beautiful. And impactful.”

From the documentary film Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.

8) “When I was teaching at Princeton, I had one course in creative writing. And I would tell the students… I do not want you to write anything about your little life. I know you have been taught to write about what you know. I’m telling you, do not do that. You don’t know anything. So I want you to invent.”

From the documentary film Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.

9) “My world did not shrink because I was a Black female writer. It just got bigger.”

A quote from a 1987 New York Times article, “Toni Morrison, In Her New Novel, Defends Women.”

10) “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me and all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you’ve got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”

From Morrison’s novel Beloved.

11) “The people who do this thing, who practice racism, are bereft. That is something distorted about the psyche. It’s a huge waste and it’s a corruption and a distortion.”

From the documentary film Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.

12) “I always said I’m a teacher who writes or an editor who writes. But I never said the real thing until after I’d written a third book. It’s the sort of thing that women frequently do. They sort of need permission to tell themselves that this is the work they do.”

A quote from the documentary film Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.

13) “I get up before the sun rises. Always get up early. I want to beat the sun. So I have to be there just before it comes up. It’s the best time.”

From the documentary film Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.

14) “I have a little framed document in my bathroom, a letter from, I think Texas Bureau of Corrections, saying that “Paradise” was banned from the prison because it might incite a riot. And I thought, how powerful is that? I could tear up the whole place!”

From the documentary film Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.

15) “…to get to a place where you could love anything you chose – not to need permission for desire – well now, that was freedom.”

From Morrison’s novel Beloved.