It was a fine cry -- loud and long -- but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.
Let your face speak what's in your heart.
Let your face speak what's in your heart. When my kids walk in the room my face says I'm glad to see them.
Good editors are really the third eye. Cool. Dispassionate. They don't love you or your work.
The peacock jumped onto the hood of the Buick and once more spread its tail, sending the flashy Buick into oblivion.
I've had only two regular women. I liked the small breakable thing inside each one. Whatever their personality, smarts, or looks, something soft lay inside each. Like a bird's breastbone, shaped and chosen to wish on. A little V, thinner than bone and lightly hinged, that I could break with a forefinger if I wanted to, but never did. Want to, I mean. Knowing it was there, hiding from me, was enough.
Funny how you lose sight of some things and memory others.
I began to realize that this idea of the lighter the better and the darker the worse was really -- had an impact on sororities, on friendships, on all sorts of things, and it was stunning to me.
Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.
Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.
The righteous look every Negro learned to recognize along with his ma'am's tit. Like a flag hoisted, this righteousness telegraphed and announced the faggot, the whip, the fist, the lie, long before it went public.
We're all surrounded by what I call faux language, fake language of commerce, of news media.
It's gonna hurt, now," said Amy. "anything dead coming back to life hurts.
But her brain was not interested in the future. Loaded with the past and hungry for more, it left her no room to imagine, let alone plan for, the next day.
They laughed too, even Rose Dear shook her head and smiled, and suddenly the world was right side up. Violet learned then what she had forgotten until this moment: that laughter is serious. More complicated, more serious than tears.
It hit her like a sledgehammer, and it was then that she knew what to feel. A liquid trail of hate flooded her chest. Knowing that she would hate him long and well filled her with pleasant anticipation, like when you know you are going to fall in love with someone and you wait for the happy signs. Hating BoyBoy, she could get on with it, and have the safety, the thrill, the consistency of that hatred as long as she wanted or needed it to define and strengthen her or protect her from routine vulnerabilities.
Anything I have ever learned of any consequence, I have learned from Black people. I have never been bored by any Black person, ever.
Knowing that she would hate him long and well filled her with pleasant anticipation, like when you know you are going to fall in love with someone and you wait for the happy signs.
As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.
While they are busy showing off, digging other people's graves, hanging themselves on a cross, running wild in the streets, cherries are quietly turning from green to red, oysters are suffering pearls, and children are catching rain in their mouths expecting the drops to be cold but they're not; they are warm and smell like pineapple before they get heavier and heavier, so heavy and fast they can't be caught one at a time. Poor swimmers head for shore while strong ones wait for lightning's silver veins. Bottle-green clouds sweep in, pushing the rain inland where palm trees pretend to be shocked by the wind.
The function of freedom is to free someone else.
In a way, her strangeness, her naivete, her craving for the other half of her equation was the consequence of idle imagination. Had she paints, or clay, or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings; had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. And like any artist with no art from, she became dangerous.
By and by all trace is gone, and what is forgotten is not only the footprints but the water too and what it is down there. The rest is weather. Not the breath of the disremembered and unaccounted for, but wind in the eaves, or spring ice thawing too quickly. Just weather. Certainly no clamor for a kiss.
The best hiding place was love. Thus the conversion from pristine sadism to fabricated hatred, to fraudulent love.
That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn't think it up. And though she and others lived through and got over it, she could never let it happen to her own.
I dream a dream that dreams back at me.
And in the night, when my coughing was dry and tough, feet padded into my room, hands repinned the flannel, readjusted the quilt, and rested a moment on my forehead. So when I think of Autumn, I think of someone with hands who does not want me to die.
Listening to the doves in Alfred, Georgia, and having neither the right nor the permission to enjoy it because in that place mist, doves, sunlight, copper dirt, moon-everything belonged to the men who had the guns... So you protected yourself and loved small... A woman, a child, a brother-a big love like that would split you wide open in Alfred, Georgia... To get to a place where you could love anything you chose-not to need permission for desire-well now, that was freedom.
Our debates, for the most part, are examples unworthy of a playground: name-calling, verbal slaps, gossip, giggles, all while the swings and slides of governance remain empty.
Florens would sigh then, her head on lina's shoulder and when sleep came the little girl's smiel lingered. mother hunger -- to be one or have one -- both of them were reeling from that longing which, lina knes, remained alive, traveling to the bone.
She heard it as though it were what language was made for.
A dead language is not only one no longer spoken or written, it is unyielding language content to admire its own paralysis. Like statist language, censored and censoring. Ruthless in its policing duties, it has no desire or purpose other than maintaining the free range of its own narcotic narcissism, its own exclusivity and dominance. However moribund, it is not without effect for it actively thwarts the intellect, stalls conscience, suppresses human potential. Unreceptive to interrogation, it cannot form or tolerate new ideas, shape other thoughts, tell another story, fill baffling silences.
She left me the way people leave a hotel room. A hotel room is a place to be when you are doing something else. Of itself it is of no consequence to one's major scheme. A hotel room is convenient. But its convenience is limited to the time you need it while you are in that particular town on that particular business; you hope it is comfortable, but prefer, rather, that it be anoymous. It is not, after all, where you live.
The City is what they want it to be: thriftless, warm, scary and full of amiable strangers. No wonder they forget pebbly creeks and when they do not forget the sky completely think of it as a tiny piece of information about the time of day or night.
Art invites us to know beauty and to solicit it, summon it, from even the most tragic of circumstances.
You need a whole community to raise a child. I have raised two children, alone.
You are your best thing.
Somewhere between retina and object, between vision and view, his eyes draw back, hesitate, and hover. At some fixed point in time and space he senses that he need not waste the effort of a glance. He does not see her, because for him there is nothing to see.
In Tar Baby, the classic concept of the individual with a solid, coherent identity is eschewed for a model of identity which sees the individual as a kaleidoscope of heterogeneous impulses and desires, constructed from multiple forms of interaction with the world as a play of difference that cannot be completely comprehended.
She is convinced that when language dies, out of carelessness, disuse, indifference and absence of esteem, or killed by fiat, not only she herself, but all users and makers are accountable for its demise. In her country children have bitten their tongues off and use bullets instead to iterate the voice of speechlessness, of disabled and disabling language, of language adults have abandoned altogether as a device for grappling with meaning, providing guidance, or expressing love.
People say to write about what you know. I'm here to tell you, no one wants to read that, cos you don't know anything. So write about something you don't know. And don't be scared, ever.
Pain. I seem to have an affection, a kind of sweettooth for it. Bolts of lightning, little rivulets of thunder. And I the eye of the storm.
Evil is just sort of ultimately boring. The good thing is just complicated. It's more provocative to me and more stimulating to me.
They were, in fact and at last, free. And the lives of these old black women were synthesized in their eyes -- a puree of tragedy and humor, wickedness and serenity, truth and fantasy.
Nothing could be taken for granted. Women who loved you tried to cut your throat, while women who didn't even know your name scrubbed your back. Witches could sound like Katharine Hepburn and your best friend could try to strangle you. Smack in the middle of an orchid there might be a blob of jello and inside a Mickey Mouse doll, a fixed and radiant star.
If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.
All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.
Violet learned then what she had forgotten until this moment: that laughter is serious. More complicated, more serious than tears.
Nobody gave you to me. Nobody said that's the one for you. I picked you out. Wrong time, yep, and doing wrong by my wife. But the picking out, the choosing. Don't ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it. I saw you and made up my mind. My mind. And I made up my mind to follow you too." Joe Trace.
It takes a certain intelligence to love like that -- softly, without props. But the world is such a showpiece, maybe that's why folks try to outdo it, put everything they feel onstage just to prove they can think up things too: handsome scary things like fights to the death, adultery, setting sheets afire. They fail of course. The world outdoes them every time.
What I think the political correctness debate is really about is the power to be able to define. The definers want the power to name. And the defined are now taking that power away from them.
The thrill that came with each blow was wonderfully familiar. Unable to stop and unwilling to, Frank kept going even though the big man was unconscious. The women stopped clawing each other and pulled at Frank's collar.
Like any artist without an art form, she became dangerous.
Black literature is taught as sociology, as tolerance, not as a serious, rigorous art form.
Two months surrounded by country women who loved mean had changed her. The women handled sickness as though it were an affront, an illegal, invading braggart who needed whipping. They didn't waste their time or the patient's with sympathy and they met the tears of the suffering with resigned contempt.
Which was what love was: unmotivated respect.
Don't beg anybody for anything, especially love.
Misery don't call ahead. That's why you have to stay awake -- otherwise it just walks on in your door.
We live in a world where justice equals vengeance. Where private profit drives public policy.
My whole education was to make sure I didn't believe things like that. I dismissed all sorts of things that were indigenous in my family -- superstition and discredited information, and that discredited way of knowing that discredited people always have. But when I began to write, that was the place where I had to go. That's where the information was.
Why are blacks singled out? Why are they not called Miamians or "local" ("As Hispanic presence grows, so does local anger")? Except when they are soldiers, blacks are never American citizens. Why? Because in media-talk we are not local, or general citizens -- we are those whose financial security is fragile; those whose reactions are volatile ("anger" -- not concern). If the reader knows the code, this headline's use of the term "local" (economically fragile American citizens) could very well be Miami's white working poor.
If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning, it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic....Authors arrive at text and subtext in thousands of ways, learning each time they begin anew how to recognize a valuable idea and how to reader the texture that accompanies, reveals or displays it to its best advantage.
At some point in life, the world's beauty becomes enough.
They were not holding hands, but their shadows were.
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.
Me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow.
There's a contract that I make between myself, the author, and the reader. I have to figure out how to give the reader certain powers of recognition, or his own knowledge, his own feelings, but I provide them, so we're working together.
I don't know everything, I just do everything.
Your life is already artful-waiting, just waiting, for you to make it art.
There is really nothing more to say -- except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.
Please don't settle for happiness. It's not good enough. Of course you deserve it, but if that's all you have in mind -- happiness -- I want to suggest to you that personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice -- that's more than a barren life. It's a trivial one.
You looking good." "Devil's confusion. He lets me look good long as I feel bad.
This word "LOVE" -- discredited, "clicheed" -- can be restored and love, the instinct, the impulse to care for somebody in the hope that somebody will care for you -- plus our language, the language, a language -- is about all we have. With everything else going on, this is what makes us, what keeps us human.
All important things are hard.
In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.
The vitality of language lies in its ability to limn the actual, imagined and possible lives of its speakers, readers, writers.
All the time, I'm afraid the thing that happened that made it all right for my mother to kill my sister could happen again. I don't know what it is, I don't know who it is, but maybe there is something else terrible enough to make her do it again. I need to know what that thing might be, but I don't want to. Whatever it is, it comes from outside this house, outside the yard, and it can come right on in the yard if it wants to. So I never leave this house and I watch over the yard, so it can't happen again and my mother won't have to kill me too.
Race is the least reliable information you can have about someone. It's real information, but it tells you next to nothing.
Every Saturday morning, first thing before breakfast, his parents held conferences with their children requiring them to answer two questions put to each of them: 1. What have you learned that is true (and how do you know)? 2. What problem do you have?
Every now and then she looked around for tangible evidence of his having ever been there. Where were the butterflies? the blueberries? the whistling reed? She could find nothing, for he had left nothing but his stunning absence. An absence so decorative, so ornate, it was difficult for her to understand how she had ever endured, without falling dead or being consumed, his magnificent presence.
Black women were armed, black women were dangerous and the less money they had the deadlier the weapon they chose.
Everybody gets everything handed to them. The rich inherit it. I don't mean just inheritance of money. I mean what people take for granted among the middle and upper classes, which is nepotism, the old-boy network.
Rainwater held on to pine needles for dear life and Beloved could not take her eyes off Sethe.
He licked his lips. ‘Well, if you want my opinion...‘
‘I don't, ‘ She said. ‘I have my own.'
But Jude,' she would say, 'you knew me. All those days and years, Jude, you knew me. My ways and my hands and how my stomach folded and how we tried to get Mickey to nurse and how about that time when the landlord said...but you said...and I cried, Jude. You knew me and had listened to the things I said in the night, and heard me in the bathroom and laughed at my raggedy girdle and I laughed too because I knew you too, Jude. So how could you leave me when you knew me?
And she did. Sitting there holding a small white tooth in the palm of her smooth smooth hand. Cried the way she wanted to when turtles came out of the water, one behind the other, right after the blood-red bird disappeared back into the leaves. The way she wanted to when Sethe went to him standing in the tub under the stairs. With the tip of her tongue she touched the salt water that slid to the corner of her mouth and hoped Denver's arm around her shoulders would keep them from falling apart.
To all these people, the attraction was of the "clean slate" variety, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not only to be born again, but to be born again in new clothes, as it were: the new setting would provide new raiments of self. The New World offered the vision of a limitless future that gleamed more brightly against the constraint, dissatisfaction, and turmoil being left behind. A promise genuinely promising. With luck and endurance one could discover freedom, find a way to make God's law manifest in Man, or end up rich as a prince. The desire for freedom is preceded by oppression; a yearning for God's law is born of the detestation of man's license and corruption; the glamour of riches is in thrall to poverty, hunger, and debt.
Did you ever see the way the clouds love a mountain? They circle all around it; sometimes you can't even see the mountain for the clouds. But you know what? ... The clouds never cover the head. His head pokes through, because the clouds let him; they don't wrap him up. They let him keep his head high, free.
My metaphor is that evil always has a top hat and a cape, and goodness is over there in the corner. For me it's just too easy, if you hate your country or your wife, so you kill them. You can't think through that, you can't feel through that, you can't do the work. And now we have guns. Solution? I don't think so.
You marvel at the economy and this choice of words. How many ways can you describe the sky and the moon? After Sylvia Plath, what can you say?
If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.
Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it's not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it's gone, but the place -- the picture of it -- stays, and not just in my remory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don't think if, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.
You looked at them and wondered why they were so
ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question. The master had said, "You are ugly people." They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance. "Yes," they had said. "You are right." And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it as a mantle over them, and went about the world with it.
Of course I'm a black writer... I'm not just a black writer, but categories like black writer, woman writer and Latin American writer aren't marginal anymore. We have to acknowledge that the thing we call "literature" is more pluralistic now, just as society ought to be. The melting pot never worked. We ought to be able to accept on equal terms everybody from the Hasidim to Walter Lippmann, from the Rastafarians to Ralph Bunche.
Occasionally, as children, we might figure out how to call somebody a name, and they would figure out how to call us. But it wasn't -- it was so light. It was so fluffy. I didn't really have a strong awareness of segregation and the separation of races until I left Lorain, Ohio.
I laughed but before I could agree with the hairdressers that she was crazy, she said, 'What's the world for if you can't make it up the way you want it?'
" 'The way I want it?' " 'Yeah. The way you want it. Don't you want it to be something more than what it is?' " 'What'st eh point? I can't change it.' " 'That's the point. If you don't, it will change you and it'll be your fault cause you let it. I let it. And messed up my life.' " 'Mess it up how?' " 'Forgot it.' " 'Forgot?' " 'Forgot it was mine. My life. I just ran up and down the streets wishing I was somebody else.
The girl's face looks greedy, haughty and very lazy. The cream-at-the-top-of-the-milkpail face of someone who will never work for anything; someone who picks up things lying on other people's dressers and is not embarrassed when found out. It is the face of a sneak who glides over to your sink to rinse the fork you have laid by her plate. An inward face -- -whatever it sees is its own self. You are there, it says, because I am looking at you.
Laughter is more serious than tears.
If they put an iron circle around your neck I will bite it away.
Evil is not interesting. What is it, chopping off someone's head? We used to do that as kids, you know, you tear up paper dolls and stuff. I know everyone's done it in the history of the world, but maybe everybody was dumb and they were just looking for something interesting to do. What's really interesting and hard is being good.
All she saw, down in the cellar well beneath the stoop, was a light yellow feather with a tip of green. And she had never named him. Had called him "my parrot" all these years. "My parrot." "Love you. "Love you." Did the dogs get him? Or did he get the message -- that she said, "My parrot" and he said, "Love you," and she had never said it back or even taken the trouble to name him -- and manage somehow to fly away on wings that had not soared for six years.
Naturally all of them had a sad story: too much notice, not enough, or the worst kind. Some tale about dragon daddies and false-hearted men, or mean mamas and friends who did them wrong. Each story has a monster in it who made them tough instead of brave, so they open their legs rather than their hearts where that folded child is tucked.
Didn't everything on God's earth have or acquire defense?
How come it can't fly no better than a chicken?' Milkman asked.
Most of our lives are spent in little towns, little towns all throughout the country. That's where we live. And that's where the juices come from and that's where we made it, not made it in terms of success but made who we are.
The concept of physical beauty as a virtue is one of the dumbest, most pernicious and destructive ideas of the Western world, and we should have nothing to do with it.
A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves a special kind of double.
Do they still call it infatuation? That magic ax that chops away the world in one blow, leaving only the couple standing there trembling? Whatever they call it, it leaps over anything, takes the biggest chair, the largest slice, rules the ground wherever it walks, from a mansion to a swamp, and its selfishness is its beauty.... People with no imagination feed it with sex -- the clown of love. They don't know the real kinds, the better kinds, where losses are cut and everybody benefits. It takes a certain intelligence to love like that -- softly, without props.
For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
To be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.
Where do you get the right to decide our lives? I'll tell you where. From that little hog's gut that hangs between your legs. Well, let me tell you something... you will need more than that. I don't know where you will get it or who will give it to you, but mark my words, you will need more than that.... You are a sad, pitiful, stupid, selfish, hateful man. I hope your little hog's gut stands you in good stead, and you take good care of it, because you don't have anything else.
An editor is like a priest or a psychiatrist; if you get the wrong one then you are better off alone.
My world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger.
Here Stands A Man.
Wishful thinking, perhaps, but he could have sworn the sweet bay was pleased to agree. Its olive-green leaves went wild in the glow of a fat cherry-red sun.
Unpersecuted, unjailed, unharrassed writers are trouble for the ignorant bully, the sly racist, and the predators feeding off the world's resources.
She had been looking all along for a friend, and it took her a while to discover that a lover was not a comrade and could never be -- for a woman. And that no one would ever be that version of herself which she sought to reach out to and touch with an ungloved hand. There was only her own mood and whim, and if that was all there was, she decided to turn the naked hand toward it, discover it and let others become as intimate with their own selves as she was.
Young America distinguished itself by pressing with full awareness toward a future, a freedom, a kind of human dignity believed to be unprecedented in the world. A whole tradition of "universal" yearnings collapsed into that well-fondled phrase "the American Dream." While the immigrants' dream deserves the exhaustive scrutiny it has received in the scholarly disciplines and the arts, it is just as important to know what these people were rushing from as it is to know what they were hastening to. If the New World fed dreams, what was the Old World reality that whetted the appetite for them? And how might that reality caress and grip the shaping of a new one?
Grab this land! Take it, hold it, my brothers, make it, my brothers, shake it, squeeze it, turn it, twist it, beat it, kick it, kiss it, whip it, stomp it, dig it, plow it, seed it, reap it, rent it, buy it, sell it, own it, build it, multiply it, and pass it on -- can you hear me? Pass it on!
The language must be careful and must appear effortless. It must not sweat. It must suggest and be provocative at the same time.
For the mouths of her children quickly forgot the taste of her nipples, and years ago they had begun to look past her face into the nearest stretch of sky.
And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word.
All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.
Jealousy we understood and thought natural... But envy was a strange, new feeling for us. And all the time we knew that Maureen Peal was not the Enemy and not worthy of such intense hatred. The Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us.
I didn't fall in love, I rose in it.
I don't think a female running a house is a problem, a broken family. It's perceived as one because of the notion that a head is a man.
I always know the ending; that's where I start.
Both of these remappings encourage and repel the relocation of large numbers of peoples.
And she had nothing to fall back on; not maleness, not whiteness, not ladyhood, not anything. And out of profound desolation of her reality, she may very well have invented herself.
The idea of a wanton woman is something I have inserted into almost all of my books. An outlaw figure who is disallowed in the community because of her imagination or activity or status -- that kind of anarchic figure has always fascinated me. And the benefits they bring with them, in spite of the fact that they are either dismissed or upbraided -- something about their presence is constructive in the long run.
I'm always annoyed about why black people have to bear the brunt of everybody else's contempt. If we are not totally understanding and smiling, suddenly we're demons.
Grown don't mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown. In my heart it don't mean a thing.
Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can't nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you gotta give up the shit that weighs you down.
Nowadays silence is looked on as odd and most of my race has forgotten the beauty of meaning much by saying little. Now tongues work all day by themselves with no help from the mind.
Fact was she knew more about them than she knew about herself, having never had the map to discover what she was like. Could she sing? (Was it nice to hear when she did?) Was she pretty? Was she a good friend? Could she have been a loving mother? A faithful wife? Have I got a sister and does she favor me? If my mother knew me would she like me? (140).
Racism will disappear when it's no longer profitable, and no longer psychologically useful. And when that happens, it'll be gone. But at the moment, people make a lot of money off of it, pro and con.
Amy dragged her eyes over Sethe's face as though she would never give out so confidential a piece of information as that to a perfect stranger.
The formula for creative writing in high school or college is write what you know. And I said they don't know nothing. Imagine something. Do you know what it's like to be a Madame in Paris, when you're too old to have any clients. No, you don't. I don't either. Write about it.
Carefully they replaced the soil and covered the entire grave with uprooted grass.
Neither one had spoken a word.
We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.
I know what every colored woman in this country is doing... Dying. Just like me. But the difference is they dying like a stump. Me, I'm going down like one of those redwoods. I sure did live in this world.
She needed to confirm its presence. Like the keeper of the lighthouse and the prisoner, she regarded it as a mooring, a checkpoint, some stable visual object that assured her that the world was still there; that this was like and not a dream. That she was alive somewhere, inside, which she acknowledged to be true only because a thing she knew intimately was out there, outside of herself.
Never did he once consider directing his hatred toward the hunters. Such an emotion would have destroyed him ... His subconscious knew what his min did not guess-that hating them would have consumed him, burned him up like a piece of soft coal, leaving only flakes of ash and a question mark of smoke.
I can't explain inspiration. A writer is either compelled to write or not. And if I waited for inspiration I wouldn't really be a writer.
They come from Mobile. Aiken. From Newport News. From Marietta. From Meridian. And the sounds of these places in their mouths make you think of love. When you ask them where they are from, they tilt their heads and say "Mobile" and you think you've been kissed. They say "Aiken" and you see a white butterfly glance off a fence with a torn wing. They say "Nagadoches" and you want to say "Yes, I will." You don't know what these towns are like, but you love what happens to the air when they open their lips and let the names ease out.
We had dropped our seeds in our own little plot of black dirt just as Pecola's father had dropped his seeds in his own plot of black dirt. Our Innocence and faith were no more productive than his lust or despair.
I always looked upon the acts of racist exclusion, or insult, as pitiable, for the other person. I never absorbed that. I always thought that there was something deficient about such people.
What do you say? There really are no words for that. There really aren't. Somebody tries to say, 'I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.' People say that to me. There's no language for it. Sorry doesn't do it. I think you should just hug people and mop their floor or something.
I like marriage. The idea.
I don't think anybody cares about unwed mothers unless they're black or poor. The question is not morality, the question is money. That's what we're upset about.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge-even wisdom. Like art.
Slave life; freed life -- everyday was a test and a trial. Nothing could be counted on in a world where even you were a solution you were a problem.
She had not lived by the sea all those years, listened to the wharfman's songs all that time, to spend her life in the soundless cave of Elihue's mind.
Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.
She was the third beer. Not the first one, which the throat receives with almost tearful gratitude; nor the second, that confirms and extends the pleasure of the first. But the third, the one you drink because it's there, because it can't hurt, and because what difference does it make?
I merged those two words, black and feminist, because I was surrounded by black women who were very tough and and who always assumed they had to work and rear children and manage homes.
He didn't mean it. It happened before he was through. She'd stepped away from him to pick flowers, returned, and at the sound of her footsteps behind him, he'd turned around before he was through. It was becoming a habit -- this concentration on things behind him. Almost as though there were no future to be had.
If he looked into her face, he would see those haunted, loving eyes. The hauntedness would irritate him -- the love would move him to fury. How dare she love him? Hadn't she any sense at all? What was he supposed to do about that? Return it? How? What could his calloused hands produce to make her smile? What of his knowledge of the world and of life could be useful to her? What could his heavy arms and befuddled brain accomplish that would earn him his own respect, that would in turn allow him to accept her love?
They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds― cooled ―and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path.
Struggling through the work is extremely important--more important to me than publishing it.
Her passions were narrow but deep.
Each member of the family in his own cell of consciousness, each making his own patchwork quilt of reality -- collecting fragments of experience here, pieces of information there. From the tiny impressions gleaned from one another, they created a sense of belonging and tried to make do with the way they found each other.
How long can news function as a palliative for despair and counter space for products? It is so frustrating and sad to open a newspaper and find the news literally at the edges, like the embroidered hem of the real subject -- advertisement. The media spectacle must not continue to direct its attention to the manufacture of consent, rather than debate with more than two sides, to the reinforcement of untruths, and a review of what else there is to buy.
Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God.
Nelson Mandela is, for me, the single statesman in the world. The single statesman, in that literal sense, who is not solving all his problems with guns. It's truly unbelievable.
God take what He would," she said. And He did, and He did, and He did and then gave her Halle who gave her freedom when it didn't mean a thing.
You know, the kind who know Jesus by His first name, but out of politeness never use it even to His face.
Alice thought, No. It wasn't the War and the disgruntled veterans; it wasn't the droves and droves of colored people flocking to paychecks and streets full of themselves. It was the music. The dirty, get-on-down music the women sang and the men played and both danced to, close and shamelesss or apart and wild...It made you do unwise disorderly things. Just hearing it was like violating the law.
One of my kids was born in 1968. There were going to be political difficulties, but they were never going to have that level of hatred and contempt that my brothers and my sister and myself were exposed to.
It was my father who could do no wrong. So I didn't think of it as, oh, look, my father's a violent man.
Birth, life, and death -- each took place on the hidden side of a leaf.
What's fair ain't necessarily right.
We read about how Ajax and Achilles will die for each other, but very little about the friendship of women.
It was an opportunity to intervene at the heart of the problem: to bring God and language to natives who were assumed to have neither; to alter their diets, their clothes, their minds; to help them despise everything that had once made their lives worthwhile and to offer them instead the privilege of knowing the one and only God and a chance, thereby, for redemption. (227).
It's been mentioned or suggested that Paradise will not be well studied, because it's about this unimportant intellectual topic, which is religion.
If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.
American means white, and Africanist people struggle to make the term applicable to themselves with ethnicity and hyphen after hyphen after hyphen.
I must confess, though, that I sometimes lose interest in the characters and get much more interested in the trees and animals. I think I exercise tremendous restraint in this, but my editor says, ‘Would you stop this beauty business.' And I say, ‘Wait, wait until I tell you about these ants.
I'm interested in the way in which the past affects the present and I think that if we understand a good deal more about history, we automatically understand a great more about contemporary life.
Like Guitar in Son of Solomon, and Son in Tar Baby, he believed that harmony could never exist between the races.
Those white things have taken all I had or dreamed," she said, "and broke my heartstrings too. There is no bad luck in the world but whitefolks.
The men began to trade tales of atrocities, first stories they had heard, then those they'd witnessed, and finally the things that had happened to themselves. A litany of personal humiliation, outrage, and anger turned sicklelike back to themselves as humor. They laughed then, uproariously, about the speed with which they had run, the pose they had assumed, the ruse they had invented to escape or decrease some threat to their manliness, their humanness. All but Empire State, who stood, broom in hand and drop-lipped, with the expression of a very intelligent ten-year-old.
Obama is creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom ... He is the man for this time.
If you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.
Something that is loved is never lost.
And talking about dark! You think dark is just one color, but it ain't. There're five or six kinds of black. Some silky, some woolly. Some just empty. Some like fingers. And it don't stay still, it moves and changes from one kind of black to another. Saying something is pitch black is like saying something is green. What kind of green? Green like my bottles? Green like a grasshopper? Green like a cucumber, lettuce, or green like the sky is just before it breaks loose to storm? Well, night black is the same way. May as well be a rainbow.
In time the whole family perked up like Sesame Street puppets, hoping that cheer, if worked at hard enough, could sugar the living and quiet the dead.
I'm not entangled in shaping my work according to other people's views of how I should have done it.
Whatever happens, whether you get rich or stay poor, ruin your health or live to old age, you always end up back where you started: hungry for the one thing everybody loses -- young loving.
If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have serious problem. And white people have a very, very serious problem.
She is not so afraid at night because she is the color of it.
And they beat. The women for having known them and no more, no more; the children for having been them but never again. They killed a boss so often and so completely they had to bring him back to life to pulp him one more time. Tasting hot mealcake among pine trees, they beat it away. Singing love songs to Mr. Death, they smashed his head. More than the rest, they killed the flirt whom folks called Life for leading them on.
Beginning 'Beloved' with numerals rather than spelled out numbers, it was my intention to give the house an identity separate from the street or even the city.
Not knowing it was hard; knowing it was harder.
A dream is just a nightmare with lipstick.
In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent.
Autonomy, newness, difference, authority, absolute power: these are the major themes and concerns of American literature, and each one is made possible, shaped, and activated by a complex awareness and use of a constituted Africanism that, deployed as rawness and savagery, provided the staging ground and arena for the elaboration of that quintessential American identity.
She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.
The human body is robust. It can gather strength when it's in mortal danger.
Our ancestors are an ever widening circle of hope.
There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up, holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship's, smooths and contains the rocker. It's an inside kind -- wrapped tight like skin. Then there is the loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive. On its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one's own feet going seem to come from a far-off place.
You think because he doesn't love you that you are worthless. You think because he doesn't want you anymore that he is right -- that his judgment and opinion of you are correct. If he throws you out, then you are garbage. You think he belongs to you because you want to belong to him. Hagar, don't. It's a bad word, 'belong'. Especially when you put it with somebody you love.
Guileless and without vanity,we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our own skins, enjoyed the news that our senses released to us, admired our dirt, cultivated our scars, and could not comprehend this unworthiness.
The hopelessness that comes from knowing too little and feeling too much (so brittle, so dry he is in danger of the reverse: feeling nothing and knowing everything).
I would solve a lot of literary problems just thinking about a character in the subway, where you can't do anything anyway.
I sold my elegant blackness to all those childhood ghosts and now they pay me for it.
What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?
It was poisonous, unnatural to let the dead go with a mere whimpering, a slight murmur, a rose bouquet of good taste. Good taste was out of place in the company of death, death itself was the essence of bad taste. And there must be much rage and saliva in its presence. The body must move and throw itself about, the eyes must roll, the hands should have no peace, and the throat should release all the yearning, despair and outrage that accompany the stupidity of loss.
The screams of a hurt woman were indistinguishable from everyday traffic.
When she awoke there was a melody in her head she could not identify or recall ever hearing before. 'Perhaps I made it up,' she thought. Then it came to her -- the name of the song and all its lyrics just as she had heard it many times before. She sat on the edge of the bed thinking, 'There aren't any more new songs and I have sung all the ones there are. I have sung them all. I have sung all the songs there are.
Language can never 'pin down' slavery, genocide, war. Nor should it yearn for the arrogance to be able to do so. Its force, its felicity, is in its reach toward the ineffable.
Make a difference about something other than yourselves.
So you protected yourself and loved small.
He fell for an eighteen-year old girl with one of those deepdown spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going.
Writing is really a way of thinking -- not just feeling but thinking about things that are disparate, unresolved, mysterious, problematic or just sweet.
I have only to break into the tightness of a strawberry, and I see summer -- its dust and lowering skies.
I'm a writer in the world. I translate the confusion that I might feel, the dread that I know I feel, moving towards some other place, moving away from puny language, from all that dread into some other kind of language.
Listen. baby, people do funny things. Specially us. The cards are stacked against us and just trying to stay in the game, stay alive and in the game, makes us do funny things. Things we can't help. Things that make us hurt one another. We don't even know why. But look here, don't carry it inside and don't give it to nobody else. Try to understand it, but if you can't just forget it and keep yourself strong, man.
Only her tight, tight eyes were left. They were always left...They were everything. Everything was there, in them...Thrown, in this way, into the binding conviction that only a miracle could relieve her, she would never know her beauty. She would see only what there was to see: the eyes of other people.
Sitting on the train to Atlanta, Frank suddenly realized that those memories, powerful as they were, did not crush him anymore or throw him into paralyzing despair. He could recall every detail, every sorrow, without needing alcohol to steady him. Was this the fruit of sobriety?
You wanna fly, you got to give up the sh*t that weighs you down.
No matter what all your teeth and wet fingers anticipated, there was no accounting for the way that simple joy could shake you.
There is no civilization that did not begin with art, Whether it was drawing a line in the sand, painting a cave or dancing.
The race thing is sort of a misnomer. It's just the human race, right? That's it. The rest of it, and racism, is socially constructed. Nobody is born racist, no one. What happens is other things that are usually based on power, money, feeling good about yourself, or bad about yourself, those things play into hating other people for whatever reason.
I am alarmed by the violence that women do to one another: professional violence, competitive violence, emotional violence. I am alarmed by the willingness of women to enslave other women. I am alarmed by a growing absence of decency on the killing floor of professional women's worlds.
Home is memory, home is your history, home is where you work. Some people want to abandon it and become truly local. But the questions are all there.
Maybe it hadn't been a community, but it had been a place. Now there weren't any places left, just separate houses with separate televisions and separate televisions and less and less dropping by.
When one assumes that you can substitute license for freedom, when one assumes that you can use another's deficiency for one's own generosity, when one assumes that you can use another person's misery and nightmares in order to clarify your own dreams. When all of those things are done and completed, then the surrender and the betrayal of one's culture is also complete.
Lay my head on the railroad line. Train come along; pacify my mind.
I don't believe any real artists have ever been non-political. They may have been insensitive to this particular plight or insensitive to that, but they were political, because that's what an artist is-a politician.
He wants to put his story next to hers.
My first-born. All I can remember of her is how she loved the burned bottom of bread. Can you beat that? Eight children and that's all I remember.
Would it be all right? Would it be all right to go ahead and feel? Go ahead and count on something?
The seeds of destruction lie in the definition of "chosen-ness" and can easily blossom into bigotry. It's not inevitable but it needs constant care to avoid.
If you take racism away from certain people -- I mean, vitriolic racism as well as the sort of social racist -- if you take that away, they may have to face something really terrible, misery, self-misery, and deep pain about who they are.
A blessing she was reckless enough to take for granted, lean on, as though Sweet Home was one... A bigger fool never lived.
The habit of getting up early, which I had formed when the children were young, now became my choice. I am not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.
Its disregard of borders, national infrastructures, local bureaucracies, internet censors, tariffs, laws, and languages; its disregard of margins and the marginal people who live there; its formidable, engulfing properties accelerating erasure, a flattening out of difference, of specificity for marketing purposes. An abhorrence of diversity. We imagine indistinguishability, the elimination of minority languages, minority cultures in its Wake. We speculate with horror on what could be the irrevocable, enfeebling alteration of major languages, major cultures in its sweep. Even if those dreaded consequences are not made completely manifest, they nevertheless cancel out globalism's assurances of better life by issuing dire warnings of premature cultural death.
I don't work. I keep telling people I'm unemployed. And I don't wash dishes, and I don't wash clothes, and I don't clean my house. Somebody else does that.
How soon country people forget. When they fall in love with a city it is forever, and it is like forever. As though there never was a time when they didn't love it. The minute they arrive at the train station or get off the ferry and glimpse the wide streets and the wasteful lamps lighting them, they know they are born for it. There, in a city, they are not so much new as themselves: their stronger, riskier selves.
Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this mission.
There is a certain kind of peace that is not merely the absence of war. It is larger than that. The peace I am thinking of is not at the mercy of history's rule, nor is it a passive surrender to the status quo. The peace I am thinking of is the dance of an open mind when it engages another equally open one -- an activity that occurs most naturally, most often in the reading writing world we live in. Accessible as it is, this particular kind of peace warrants vigilance.
All of us -- all who knew her -- felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used -- to silence our own nightmares.
In your rainbow journey toward the realization of personal goals, don't make choices based only on your security and your safety. Nothing is safe. That is not to say that anything ever was, or that anything worth achieving ever should be. Things of value seldom are. It is not safe to have a child. It is not safe to challenge the status quo. It is not safe to choose work that has not been done before. Or to do old work in a new way. There will always be someone there to stop you.
My puzzlement used to be 'why is the Lone Ranger' called 'lone' if he is always with Tonto. Now, I see that given the racial and metaphorical nature of the relationship, he is able to be understood as 'alone' precisely because of Tonto. Without him, he would be, I suppose, simply 'Ranger'.
No gasp at a miracle that is truly miraculous because the magic lies in the fact that you knew it was there for you all along.
If you're going to hold someone down you're going to have to hold on by the other end of the chain. You are confined by your own repression.
The complexity of the so-called individual that's been praised for decades in America somehow has narrowed itself to the ‘me'. When I was a young girl we were called citizens -- American citizens. We were second-class citizens, but that was the word. In the 50s and 60s they started calling us consumers. So we did -- consume. Now they don't use those words any more -- it's the American taxpayer and those are different attitudes.
I know there's some poetry that sort of sounds like daisies, but most of the good poetry is also political, you can feel the heartbeat; it's about some situation that concerns human beings under duress. It's suggesting a solution, or just acknowledging that the situation exists. Art does that.
In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can't take positions that are closed. Everything I've ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book -- leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, revisitation, a little ambiguity.
When a child walks in the room, your child or anybody else's child, do your eyes light up? That's what they're looking for.
Now what? All the battles feminists won about not being a sex object, not being evaluated based on these things, that now other generations are wallowing in, the extremes they go to, to look sexually attractive? It's stunning how things that one fought desperately for are just being tossed aside with aplomb.
Black boys became criminalized. I was in constant dread for their lives, because they were targets everywhere. They still are.
Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.
I get angry about things, then go on and work.
Books ARE a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.
Everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth.
The pieces I am, she gather them and gave them back to me in all the right order.
I suspect that a nonracist, nonsexist, educating press is as profitable as one that is not. I suspect that clarification of difficult issues is just as entertaining as obscuring and reducing them is. But it will take more than an effort of the will to make such a press profitable; it will take imagination, invention, and a strong sense of responsibility and accountability.
My daddy's face is a study. Winter moves into it and presides there. His eyes become a cliff of snow threatening to avalanche, his eyebrows bend like black limbs of leafless trees. His skin takes on the pale cheerless yellow of winter sun; for a jaw he has the edges of a snowbound field dotted with stubble; his high forehead is the frozen sweep of the Erie.
The unflattering reviews are painful for short periods of time; the badly written ones are deeply, deeply insulting. That reviewer took no time to really read the book.
When am I happy and when am I sad and what is the difference? What do I need to know to stay alive? What is true in the world?
When I went into the publishing industry, many women talked about the difficulty they had in persuading their families to let them go to college. They educated the boys, and the girls had to struggle.
There is no such thing as race. None. There is just a human race -- scientifically, anthropologically. Racism is a construct, a social construct... it has a social function, racism.