Happy Birthday! 15 Life Lessons We Learned From Toni Morrison And The Late Audre Lorde

February 18, 2014  |  
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Both born on February 18, Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde have changed the American literary canon by creating a space for black women and their narratives. With their riveting novels and sometimes controversial stances, Morrison and Lorde gave quite a few different voices to black women and their struggle from the 60s until today. Born to Caribbean parents, Audre Lorde taught black women to be multi-dimensional in their public and personal lives. Toni Morrison created a space for women to not subscribe to mandatory feminism while still poking at the influence of patriarchy. Celebrating their shared birthday, here are 15 life lessons we have learned from the work of both Morrison and Lorde.

Lesson #1: The Importance of Letting Go

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.

– Toni Morrison, Tar Baby

Lesson #2: Speaking Up

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
― Audre Lorde

Lesson #3: Do Not Depend Solely On Your Spouse

Toni Morrison’s ex-husband Harold Morrison moved back to Jamaica while Toni was pregnant with their second child. She could have tried to follow him, but Morrison moved back home with her parents to write and get her life together and a few years later, she became a literary star.

 Lesson #4: Be Authentic

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”― Audre Lorde

Lesson #5: Do Not Become A Scapegoat

Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The novel revolved around a little girl who believed her tumultuous life would be better if she had blue eyes. Morrison teaches us not to believe life will be better if you are another race and in other circumstances, pining over what could have been, nor should you become a scapegoat for the status quo.

Lesson #6: Inequality

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” ― Audre Lorde

Lesson #7:  Real Love

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.

– Toni Morrison, Love 

Lesson # 8: Sisterhood

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” ― Audre Lorde

Lesson #9: Friendship

In her novel Sula, Morrison invites us into the friendship of Nel and Sula. The two were best friends as young girls, but grow apart as they transition into adulthood. Nel decides to become a wife and mother. Sula defies societal expectations and has many affairs with men of different races, causing her to be something of a pariah to the women in her town, and to her own grandmother. But in the end, the loss of Sula’s friendship leaves Nel broken and how important it can be despite the changes we all go through and the different roads friends take in life.

Lesson #10: Dealing With Pain

“Pain is important: how we evade it, how we succumb to it, how we deal with it, how we transcend it.” ― Audre Lorde

Lesson#11: Getting Rid Of Anger

“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. -Toni Morrison

Lesson #12: Following Your Intuition

“We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings.” ― Audre Lorde

Lesson #13:  Women Can Have And Do It All

“I didn’t plan on either children or writing. Once I realized that writing satisfied me in some enormous way, I had to make adjustments. The writing was always marginal in terms of time when the children were small. But it was major in terms of my head. I always thought that women could do a lot of things. All the women I knew did nine or ten things at one time. I always understood that women worked, they went to church, they managed their houses, they managed somebody else’s houses, they raised their children, they raised somebody else’s children, they taught. I wouldn’t say it’s not hard, but why wouldn’t it be? All important things are hard.” – Toni Morrison

Lesson #14: Do Not Wait For The “Right Moment”

“Some women wait for themselves around the next corner and call the empty spot peace but the opposite of living is only not living and the stars do not care.” ― Audre Lorde

Lesson #15:  Moving Relationships Forward

“Me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow.”― Toni Morrison, Beloved

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