Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (1928-2014).

Maya Angelou was a luminary whose work touched and changed millions of lives, including mine. She was a poet, a storyteller, a scholar, actress, dancer, and activist for social justice.

Her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), was a groundbreaking, brutally honest, personal account of the Jim Crow South, covering the first sixteen years of her life. The book defied conventions of the time by exposing the harsh truths of racism, abandonment, rape, homelessness, and teen motherhood.

Like a phoenix, Maya Angelou rose from the difficulties of her early years and became an internationally beloved voice and beacon of hope for the disadvantaged and underprivileged. She was a living testament to the power of truth, love, and justice.

She was the first female streetcar driver in San Francisco, toured Europe in a production of Porgy and Bess, was the second poet in American history who was invited to read at a presidential inauguration in 1993, and was the recipient of the highest civilian honor when she received the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom. She spoke six languages and received over thirty honorary degrees. Maya Angelou’s life and accomplishments are truly awe-inspiring.

In a statement released on the day of her death, President Obama said:

Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time – a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman. Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things – an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer. But above all, she was a storyteller – and her greatest stories were true.  A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking – but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves…And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, “flung up to heaven” – and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.

Maya’s Work

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s poetry is memorable, inspiring, and uplifting. It drives itself into your heart and fixes itself in your mind. I vividly remember the first time I read one of her poems, “Phenomenal Woman.” I promptly printed it out and pinned it to the wall next to my desk. That one poem inspired me to write dozens of my own.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

(Source)

Caged Bird

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

(Source)

Still I Rise

Remembering Maya Angelou

Poetry Foundation, Maya Angelou’s bio

Ms. Magazine, “Remembering Maya Angelou.”

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou made me feel strong, capable, and empowered, and I will never forget the way her work and spirit touched and strengthened my writing and my life. I will always remember her as the phenomenal human being that she was, and I am comforted by the thought that her work will speak to generations to come.

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

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