Top twenty six Toni Morrison quotes to live by

As we wrap up another year, often our thoughts turn to the legends we’ve lost. One of the greatest this year was no doubt literary great, Toni Morrison.

“M words of goodbye will not be, could never be the marker of Toni’s passage,” wrote US crime writer and Morrison’s friend, Walter Mosley, in The Observer in a tribute to the novelist.

“She will be remembered for and by her own words, like Emily Dickinson is, like Shakespeare is, like Abe Lincoln and also like Nat Turner, Sojourner Truth and Emma Goldman. Her words are both her epitaph and our bookmarks to return to when we get lost along the way. Because most of us expect that we will get lost… at least, we suspect that eventuality. And when we find ourselves adrift, marooned upon that foggy sea, Morrison’s words will call out to us, promising that if we follow we will return to our best selves.”

This befitting tribute made me think of all the Toni Morrison quotes I’ve encountered not only after her passing but over the years. How wise, how insightful of the human condition, how guiding they are. Often, in a book of inspirations or a notebook of motivational quotes, I stumble on a Morrison quote and ponder the depth and width of it. Never had I thought of them as beacons in a foggy sea, but the analogy rings true.

As we remember the author and her remarkable body of work, here are her memorable quotes to live by and find the way to safe havens when we get lost along the way.

On jobs

“I tell my students, ‘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.”

On success

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”

On power

“As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.”

On oppression

“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.”

On leadership

“Somebody has to take responsibility for being a leader.”

On 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 – I have no use for it whatsoever.”

On evil

“The presence of evil was something to be first recognized, then dealt with, survived, outwitted, triumphed over.”

On goodness

“We tend to overlook goodness, but we must put goodness front and center in our lives.”

On beauty

“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.”

On friendship

“What one puts up with in a friendship is determined by the emotional value of the relationship.”

On female friendship

“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.”

On daughters

“A daughter is a woman that cares about where she come from and takes care of them that took care of her.”

On learning

“Correct what you can; learn from what you can’t.”

On labels

“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.”

On freedom

“The function of freedom is to free someone else.”

On language

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

On truth

“Facts can exist without human intelligence, but truth cannot.”

On sympathy

“The danger of sympathizing with the stranger is the possibility of becoming a stranger.”

On sadness

“It’s amazing how much time there is when you’re unhappy.”

On belonging

“It’s a bad word, ‘belong.’ Especially when you put it with somebody you love … You can’t own a human being.”

On relationships

“Perhaps that’s what all human relationships boil down to: Would you save my life? or would you take it?”

On imagination

“If you can’t imagine it, you can’t have it.”

On the beauty of life

“I’m a believer in the power of knowledge and the ferocity of beauty, so from my point of view, your life is already artful—waiting, just waiting, for you to make it art.”

On being enough

“You are your best thing.”

On life

“You got a life? Live it! Live the motherfuckin’ life!”

On living

“Yours was the courage to live life in and from its belly as well as beyond its edges.”

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