9 Times Black Women Writers Told Us To Persist

Toni Morrison Said We Aren't Supposed To Stop. So We Ain't.

Lately every time I pick up a pen, I find myself writing about the Black community. I’ve asked myself, am I overdoing it? Am I coming on too strong? Then I read disturbing headlines about what’s going on around me and I remember the words of Toni Morrison and other Black women writers that laid the foundation for me to have a voice.

Morrison said, “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.”

So, here I am. Spreading the words of my fore-mothers. Remembering Alice Walker saying, “What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers’ time? In our great-grandmothers’ day? It is an answer cruel enough to stop the blood.”

And I persist. Where their pens end, mine begins. May we continue to hold on to their wisdom as we pave the way for those who will come after us.

  1. “When I began to write, I wanted to tell how I became the woman with razor blades between her teeth. What made me want to power others through my bloodstream, what made me want to rise up to tell my story and… all our stories, I guess it must’ve been something underneath our skirts, girls… Something accented, unaccented in my and your walk and talk. Jimmy Baldwin wrote, ‘For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new. It must always be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell. It’s the only light we’ve got in all of this darkness.’” (Sonia Sanchez; Huffington Post 2016)
  2. “I want to remind us all that art is dangerous. I want to remind you of the history of artists who have been murdered, slaughtered, imprisoned, chopped up, refused entrance. The history of art, whether it’s in music or written or what have you, has always been bloody because dictators and people in office and people who want to control and deceive know exactly the people who will disturb their plans… And it’s something that society has to protect. When you enter that field, no matter where you enter, whether it’s Sonia’s poetry or Toshi’s music or Ta-Nehisi’s rather starkly clear prose, it’s a dangerous pursuit. Somebody’s out to get you. You have to know it before you start, and do it under those circumstances, because it is one of the most important things that human beings do. That’s what we do.” (Toni Morrison; Huffington Post 2016)
  3. “We have always used our creativity to battle and we’re not the only ones. Black Americans are certainly leaders in that simply because we were denied education and dealt with enforced illiteracy. But people seem to always forget that literacy is not the only way of learning things or conveying knowledge.” (Nikki Giovanni; Liberator Magazine 2007)
  4. “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; Lorde, The Transformation Of Silence Into Language And Action)
  5. “The world has changed: it did not change without your prayers without your faith without your determination to believe in liberation and kindness; without your dancing through the years that had no beat.” (Alice Walker; The World Has Changed)
  6. “I think writers are the history keepers, right? We’re the ones who are bearing witness to what’s going on in the world. And I feel like it’s our job to put that down on paper, and put it out into the world, so that it can be remembered.” (Jacqueline Woodson; PBS News Hour)
  7. “The world has improved mostly because unorthodox people did unorthodox things. Not surprisingly, they had the courage and daring to think they could make a difference.” (Ruby Dee)
  8. “Under adversity, under oppression, the words begin to fail, the easy words begin to fail. In order to convey things accurately, the human being is almost forced to find the most precise words possible, which is a precondition for literature.” (Rita Dove; New York Times)
  9. “Perhaps it is just as well to be rash and foolish for a while. If writers were too wise, perhaps no books would get written at all. It might be better to ask yourself ‘Why?’ afterward than before. Anyway, the force of somewhere in space which commands you to write in the first place, gives you no choice. You take up the pen when you are told, and write what is commanded. There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.” (Zora Neale Hurston; I Love Myself when I Am Laughing … and Then Again when I Am Looking Mean …)

With the current state of society, it’s important that we find encouragement from those who lit the fire before us. The women with “razor blades between their teeth” who refused to take no for an answer.  The women who used their passion to create hope for someone else. May we hold on to their words as we fight for the change we want to see.

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