I have a love for many female writers, past and present, but Maya Angelou’s achievements stand out for me. Among many of her writings and books, I love her poem and book And Still I Arise.
Maya was born in St Louis, Missouri on 4th April 1928 and passed away on 28th May 2014 (aged 86) and her writing life spanned over 50 years. She didn’t have an easy start to life, had many professions but her love books and some influential people in her life helped her overcome her difficult times. She wrote her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, at the age of 17.
During her lifetime she published autobiographies and poems, some of which took the form of lectures, plays, movies, television and film. She was an active member of the Civil Rights Movement and was a good friend of Martin Luther King Jr. Education was important to her and even after a difficult period in her life, she graduated from high school, continued learning and by the time of her passing had over 50 honorary degrees and prestigious awards.
Maya Angelou met and influenced thousands of people whilst alive and still today. I’ve been called a ‘strong woman’ and often question the term but, Maya Angelou really was a strong woman and her legacy proves that she was.
In her own words:
‘All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.’ – Maya Angelou
(McPherson, Dolly A. (1990). Order Out of Chaos: The Autobiographical Works of Maya Angelou. New York: Peter Lang Publishing. pp. 10–11. ISBN 0-8204-1139-6)
STILL I RISE
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 back yard.
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.
2020© Sharon RM Stevens