Maya Angelou: A True Phenomenal Woman

by on January 3rd, 2011
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“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” Maya Angelou has become one of the most famous and well-known female African American poets of our time, and these words convey how her strength and character as she refused to let herself become defeated during a time where race and sex were a big issue. Her life and startling lists of accomplishments has led her to be a person that has overcome defeat.

The Woman

Marguerite Johnson (Maya) was born in St Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928 as the second child of Baily Johnson and Vivian Johnson and was raised alongside her older brother, Bailey Jr., in Stamps, Arkansas. During the time of her birth, Maya Angelou had been born into a world heavy on racial discrimination of people of color. At age 14, she received a scholarship to study dance and drama at California School, while also attending high school at George Washington High School. Many weeks after completing high school she gave birth to her son, Guy, and for many years would take on many odd jobs such a cook and waitress.

Her love of art began to take center stage when she toured Europe with an opera Porgy and Bess. This would lead her to the Harlem Writer’s Guild in New York where she would act in Jean Genet’s The Blacks and write and perform in her own play Cabaret for Freedom. As she studied abroad, many of the jobs she would later hold would include editor of The Arab Observer in Cairo, Egypt, editor of The African Review in Ghana, and teacher for University of Ghana’s School of Music. When she later returned back to the U.S., she became involved in the Civil Rights Movement alongside of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Her life as a poet and novelist began in 1970 with encouragement from her friend novelist, James Baldwin, and her first work was I Know Why Caged Birds Sing. All these years later, and she has more than thirty bestselling works of fiction and nonfiction. She currently holds over 30 honorary degrees and has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2000, Lincoln Medal in 2008, thee Grammy Awards, and Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011amoung dozens of others.

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.”

This poem is one of her greatest and most inspirational poems she has ever written. It details that women should not have to fit into society’s restraints of being a “supermodel” or detail what a beautiful self-image of a woman is. She does on to further explain that a woman should consider herself genuinely beautiful no matter what are features are and should be proud of who she is. A woman can be phenomenal in how she acts and conducts herself and still be beautiful. Maya Angelou’s poem is one about the inner strength of being a woman and is very inspirational about being true to one’s self as a person.

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.”

The one thing enjoyable about all of her poems is that they all share the persistence to overcome obstacles. This poems details how she overcame sexism, racism, and her own personal obstacles and rose above it all. She was able to defeat the difficulties of life and still be a person of strength and character. This poem can be taken to any time or place and be inspirational to anyone going through a hard time that needs a little extra boost to believe in themselves.

The Artist

As a novelist, playwright, actress, and poet, Maya Angelou has given new meaning to the word artists. She has proven that not even race or sex can determine the true art behind a poet or author.


Still I Rise By Maya Angelou

Phenomenal Woman By Maya Angelou

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