Maya Angelou died today. Writer for poetry, films, television, plays, even spoken-word, Angelou spearheaded the American Civil Rights movement with her works. She even has a Wikipedia page devoted to the list of honors she’s received. The autobiographical “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” lifted the Jim Crow experience from segregated neighborhoods to a literary masterpiece. Not only crying out for racial equality, Angelou condemned all oppression, including that against women. And she was friends with James Baldwin, so how could we not like her? While the Bard could attempt to cover all her achievements, her most famous poem, “Still I Rise,” may transmit to you who and what she gave voice to in her writings.
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 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.