Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928. She grew up in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. She was indeed a renaissance woman, an author, poet, historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, stage and screen producer, director, performer, singer, and civil rights activist. Reading her autobiographical books both broke and opened my heart. You might start with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), which was nominated for the National Book Award and then explore her other books from there. Be sure to read her poetry. Her poems will take your breath away and inspire you!
A few highlights from her illustrious career include her acceptance of a lifetime appointment as In 1982 she accepted a lifetime appointment as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1982. In 1993, at Bill Clinton’s request, she wrote and delivered a poem, “On The Pulse of the Morning,” for his inauguration as president of the United States. In 2000, she received the National Medal of Arts, and in 2010 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86.
One of my favorite poems by her is Still I Rise was written in 1978. Maya Angelou hold the copyright, it was published by Random House, Inc.
And Still I Rise
Maya Angelou, 1928 – 2014
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
You really need to read this out loud … with more than a touch of sassiness, even as you feel the pain and terror. Read it and feel the determination to survival and excellence. Read it and know that hope is always possible where ever there is breath to inspire and act!