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Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison is photographed during "An Evening with Toni Morrison and Her Friends" at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, April 5, 1994.
Kathy Willens/AP
Citizenship

7 Powerful Quotes That Show Toni Morrison Was a Global Citizen


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Toni Morrison was the first black woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her celebrated works focus on the lives of African-American women and address issues of slavery, poverty, and inequality. She will be remembered not just through her works, but for having inspired generations of writers who tell the stories of those who are overlooked. You can take action in support of a world free of inequality and discrimination here

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives,” author Toni Morrison said in 1993, accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Morrison, who died on Monday at age 88 in New York City, will certainly be measured by and remembered for her words.

In her lifetime, Morrison wrote 11 novels, as well as five children’s books in collaboration with her son Slade. Her work has been taught in many classrooms around the world, inspiring the next generations of readers and writers.

Morrison sought to tell the stories of those who had been overlooked and whose voices were rarely prioritized in literature and media for so long: black women.

Often addressing slavery and poverty through poignant prose, Morrison — born Chloe Ardella Wofford — is best known for works like Beloved and Song of Solomon. And, fittingly, she became the first black woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her work, which prominently and predominantly features black female protagonists.

Toni-Morrsion-Global-Citizen-Obit-Full.jpgAuthor Toni Morrison poses for a portrait for her book entitled "Love" in Midtown Manhattan on Aug. 29, 2002 in New York City.
Image: Todd Plitt/Getty Images

Throughout her career and lifetime, Morrison spoke out against racial and gender discrimination, challenging deeply ingrained notions of inequality and sparking critical conversations through her writing.

These powerful quotes, from Morrison’s writing and interviews with the prolific author, reflect the many ways in which she championed equality and embodied what it means to be a global citizen.


What was driving me to write was the silence — so many stories untold and unexamined. There was a wide vacuum in the literature. I was inspired by the silence and absences in the literature.New Yorker interview, 2003.

"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.’"
— O Magazine interview, 2003.

"If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it."Speech before the Ohio Arts Council, 1981

"Look to yourself. You free. Nothing and nobody is obliged to save you but you. Seek your own land. You young and a woman and there's serious limitation in both, but you are a person too. Don't let ... some trifling boyfriend and certainly no devil doctor decide who you are. That's slavery. Somewhere inside you is that free person I'm talking about. Locate her and let her do some good in the world."

— Home

It's a bad word, ‘belong.’ Especially when you put it with somebody you love … You can't own a human being. You can't lose what you don't own.Song of Solomon

“It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is, and to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up.”

— Portland State University speech, 1975.

“I wanted to read that book that I did not think anybody had written. I read all the time, but I was never in those books. Or if I was, it was as a joke, or as some anecdote that explained something about the main character without the main character looking like me. So I decided that I would write the book that I really and truly wanted to read.”

— Stella Adler Studio of Acting Marlon Brando Award pre-ceremony panel discussion, 2016.


The author is being remembered and celebrated on social media by writers, politicians, former students, and — perhaps most importantly — the readers she touched.