As we close out Black History Month, I want to share five quotes from African American authors that are sure to give you the push you need to write something fantastic.
Today I want to share a few favorite writing quotes from African American writers who have inspired me and countless others. If you’ve been in a writing slump or just need a little nudge to remind you to keep going, take a look at these inspiring pieces of advice.
1. Write the Story the World Is Missing
Toni Morrison was a novelist, essayist, editor, professor, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her perhaps most well-known book, Beloved, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was made into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey.
It seems strange that even with the countless novels available to us, there are still gaping holes in every genre. And it can be incredibly frustrating when what you want to read most doesn’t seem to exist. Chances are, you’re not the only one who feels that way.
Here’s a little secret: you can be the one to fill that hole. If something is missing in your genre of choice, be the solution to that problem.
2. Tell Your Untold Stories
Maya Angelou was a memoirist, poet, educator, civil rights activist, and so much more. She is probably best known for her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings about her childhood, but she worked in diverse genres from poetry to the stage.
She was the first African American woman to have a screenplay produced, Georgia, Georgia, and she received widespread recognition for both her writing and acting.
It’s hard to choose just one quote from her work, but this one has always resonated with me:
Everyone has a story inside them they can and must tell, even if they don’t know it yet. No one story is the same, which means you and only you can tell the one sitting inside your head and heart, waiting to be written.
Sit someplace quiet and listen. What story is inside you right now, begging to be told?
3. Resilience Is Key
Tiffany D. Jackson is a NYT bestselling author of numerous books, and she was awarded the NAACP Image Award in the category Outstanding Literary Work in 2017 for her book Allegedly.
Jackson encourages young writers to keep going even when they want to quit.
“Be strategic and resilient in the pursuit of your dreams. That sounds like a cheesy quote, right? But nah, I’m serious. Resilience is one hell of a quality to master and not many have the skin for it.” —Tiffany D. Jackson
With writing comes rejection. No author can truly escape it. No author places in every contest, wins the heart of every agent, or tops every book list there is.
Is all the rejection still worth the end result? Absolutely. Challenges strengthen you. If you can take everything life has to throw at you, you can get right back up and prove you have a story worth telling.
4. Don’t Worry About Other People
Jacquline Woodson has a vast catalog of work, ranging from children’s books to poetry to middle grade, young adult, and adult novels. In 2018, Woodson was appointed the sixth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and in 2020 she was selected as a MacArthur’s Fellow.
Here, she challenges writers to ignore criticism that doesn’t make you better as a writer:
“People are going to judge you all the time no matter what you do. . . . Don’t worry about other people. Worry about you.” —Jacqueline Woodson
Everyone’s a critic and it’s impossible to stop other people’s judgments. But guess what? It’s not your problem.
Sort out what comments are just plain negative and which ones are constructive criticism. Only take to heart what’s going to help you learn and grow as a writer. The rest you can forget about. They’ll only bog you down.
5. Hold Fast to Dreams
Langston Hughes was a poet, novelist, playwright, and a central figure during the Harlem Renaissance. In this quote from the poem “Dreams,” he encourages us to hold onto dreams:
Dreams and desires are what motivate us. Without motivation, we wouldn’t get anywhere. Creativity and productivity can all be fueled by passion.
What sparks that drive in you? Find it and hold onto it. It’s a powerful and priceless thing.
Your Turn to Write—And Read
What stories do these quotes inspire in you? Take time now to write them down.
And if you haven’t yet, be sure to take a look at these writers’ works. Here are some books to get you started:
Who are your favorite Black authors? Let us know in the comments below and help us all discover more writers.
Take one of the quotes from above and think about how it applies to you. How can you use it to grow as a writer? Save it along with some of your other favorite quotes somewhere easily accessible, like a Word document or a Pinterest board.
With that inspiration mulling around in your head, write for fifteen minutes. You can spend the time on your work in progress, or start a new story.
When time is up, share your practice in the Pro Practice Workshop here, and leave feedback for a few other writers. Not a member? Join us here.