All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.
You wanna fly, you got to give up the sh*t that weighs you down.
We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.
As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.
Race is the least reliable information you can have about someone. It's real information, but it tells you next to nothing.
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 peacock jumped onto the hood of the Buick and once more spread its tail, sending the flashy Buick into oblivion.
A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves a special kind of double.
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.
Both of those conditions (my own awareness of being a native of a country and an alien in it) are of interest to me as a writer, and I'd like to talk about that expected and perhaps inevitable sense of separatedeness from the culture that pervades the country I live in.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An editor is like a priest or a psychiatrist; if you get the wrong one then you are better off alone.
The language must be careful and must appear effortless. It must not sweat. It must suggest and be provocative at the same time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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.
Evil is just sort of ultimately boring. The good thing is just complicated. It's more provocative to me and more stimulating to me.
There is really nothing more to say -- except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.
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.
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?
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.
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?
Like Guitar in Son of Solomon, and Son in Tar Baby, he believed that harmony could never exist between the races.
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.
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.
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.
Tell us what it is to be a woman so that we may know what it is to be a man. What moves at the margin. What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company.
I know it's trash: just another story made up to scare wicked females and correct unruly children. But it's all I have. I know I need something else. Something better. Like a story that shows how brazen women can take a good man down. I can hum to that.
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.
This is really skin privilege, the ranking of color in terms of its closeness to white people or white-skinned people and its devaluation according to how dark one is and the impact that has on people who are dedicated to the privileges of certain levels of skin color.
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.
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.
We read about how Ajax and Achilles will die for each other, but very little about the friendship of women.
Art invites us to know beauty and to solicit it, summon it, from even the most tragic of circumstances.
Anything I have ever learned of any consequence, I have learned from Black people. I have never been bored by any Black person, ever.
Obama is creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom ... He is the man for this time.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Books ARE a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.
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.
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.
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.
I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and as a female person are greater than those of people who are neither.... So it seems to me that my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger.
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.
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?
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.
Sex is difficult to write about because it's just not sexy enough. The only way to write about it is not to write much. Let the reader bring his own sexuality into the text. A writer I usually admire has written about sex in the most off-putting way. There is just too much information.
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.
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.
You are your own stories and therefore free to imagine and experience what it means to be human... And although you don't have complete control over the narrative -- no author does, I can tell you -- you could nevertheless create 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
My home is such a powerfully imaginative place that the space is almost irrelevant. I think the house I live at on the Hudson is where I belong because it's the only place where I am that I never think about when I'm leaving.
The best hiding place was love. Thus the conversion from pristine sadism to fabricated hatred, to fraudulent love.
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.
Just Imagine. No illness. Ever. No pain. No aging or frailty of any kind. No loss or grief or tears. And obviously no more dying, not even if the stars shattered into motes and the moon disintegrated like a corpse beneath the sea.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Make no mistake, the privatization of prisons is less about unburdening taxpayers than it is about providing bankrupt communities with sources of income and especially about providing corporations with a captured population available for unpaid labor.
The vitality of language lies in its ability to limn the actual, imagined and possible lives of its speakers, readers, writers.
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.
Unpersecuted, unjailed, unharrassed writers are trouble for the ignorant bully, the sly racist, and the predators feeding off the world's resources.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have only to break into the tightness of a strawberry, and I see summer -- its dust and lowering skies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.
Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.
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.
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.
Black women were armed, black women were dangerous and the less money they had the deadlier the weapon they chose.
A blessing she was reckless enough to take for granted, lean on, as though Sweet Home was one... A bigger fool never lived.
You know, the kind who know Jesus by His first name, but out of politeness never use it even to His face.
Carefully they replaced the soil and covered the entire grave with uprooted grass.
Neither one had spoken a word.
Violet learned then what she had forgotten until this moment: that laughter is serious. More complicated, more serious than tears.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here was an ugly little girl asking for beauty....A little black girl who wanted to rise up out of the pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes. His outrage grew and felt like power. For the first time he honestly wished he could work miracles.
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.
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?
There is no civilization that did not begin with art, Whether it was drawing a line in the sand, painting a cave or dancing.
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.
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.
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.
American means white, and Africanist people struggle to make the term applicable to themselves with ethnicity and hyphen after hyphen after hyphen.
Misery don't call ahead. That's why you have to stay awake -- otherwise it just walks on in your door.
No matter what all your teeth and wet fingers anticipated, there was no accounting for the way that simple joy could shake you.
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.
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.
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.