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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Women who have influenced me – Maya Angelou

I first heard of Maya Angelou on a day I was at home and sick and watching Oprah. From memory Maya read some of her poetry and from that moment I was hooked. Her poem “Phenomenal Woman” from her book And Still I Rise is one of my all time favorites and forever reminds me of just how wonderful women are and how we should all hold our heads high no matter what life throws at us.

It didn’t take me long to find Maya’s books in my local library and I’ve read through most of her autobiographical memoirs. Maya is everything I admire in a woman. She has had an incredible life, lived through some hard times, made some mistakes along the way, but at every stumbling block she encountered she managed to pick herself up, dust herself off, review the situation and move on. She never gave up on herself or on life in general.

This woman lived through some of the more tumultuous of times. She battled through poverty, her parent’s divorce, sexual molestation and the racial discrimination that was endemic in the Southern states. She forged a career as a performer and then moved into both the editorial and academic worlds. She worked with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr and has become a renowned author of contemporary literature, successful in both prose and poetry. She was even asked by President Clinton to write a poem for his inauguration.

I read Maya’s first autobiographical book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings without really knowing what to expect. What I discovered and enjoyed was a style of writing that pulled no punches. Her honesty is both insightful and confronting. I got the same pleasure from her other autobiographies, each portraying the next stage of her life. I can highly recommend her books and her poems. In case you haven’t read any of Maya’s poetry, here is Phenomenal Woman, my favorite:

by Maya Angelou

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
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 of my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
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
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 of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

from And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.


  1. such a magnificant woman. she writes beautiful words

  2. I remember hearing her read on the show one time too. Not sure if it was the same show, as she's been on there a dozen times.
    But yes, I agree she is one of the most amazing women of our time.

  3. Rose - I agree - I love her words.

    Domestic - I think I've seen her a few times on Oprah since and I've become a fan on facebook!

  4. Wow, she is truly phenomenal. I love her work, and she's amazing. Thanks for sharing this empowering poem.

  5. One of my favorite poems, too. I remember how humble she was at the Clinton inauguration ... I always strive to be as balanced as she seems.

  6. wonderful poem...she really captured the confidence of a smart woman.....

  7. I love that poem. I think I am going to print it out & tape that to my bathroom mirror. :)

  8. She actually lives one town over from me, but I've never read any of her work before. But she is an inspiration from what I've heard. May have to check out some of her work.

  9. Love her! She inspires me as well!

  10. I have heard her read this one. She is incredible.

  11. Love it! We are allowed to take our space in the world and not apologize for it!!! If you also enjoy Adrienne Rich or Virginia Woolf, I have quoted them in my post today!

  12. This is awesome! Time to be PHENOMENAL!! I love Miss Maya:o)!!

  13. Robyn - I love her work too!
    Wendi - its amazing to read her autobiography and then realise how much it probably took to get her balance
    Susan - I like to think its about all women!
    Martha - what a good idea!
    Gigi - if I were you I'd be driving to the next town to meet her! lol
    Secrets - she is that.
    Betty - its nice to have inspiration as talented as Maya.
    Kazzy - I'd love to hear her read her work.
    Kristy - I will read your post in a bit.
    Eneida - Me too!

  14. maya is such a great poet and a phonomenal women


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