Maya Angelou

 

Peace is more than, and other than, the absence of war.  Peace is the permanent presence of good will.

Dr. Maya Angelou is one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. Hailed as a global renaissance woman, Dr. Angelou is a celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.

Born on April 4th, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Angelou was raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. In Stamps, Dr. Angelou experienced the brutality of racial discrimination, but she also absorbed the unshakable faith and values of traditional African-American family, community, and culture.

As a teenager, Dr. Angelou’s love for the arts won her a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. At 14, she dropped out to become San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor. She later finished high school, giving birth to her son, Guy, a few weeks after graduation. As a young single mother, she supported her son by working as a waitress and cook, however her passion for music, dance, performance, and poetry would soon take center stage.

In 1954 and 1955, Dr. Angelou toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. She studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey on television variety shows and, in 1957, recorded her first album, Calypso Lady. In 1958, she moved to New York, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild, acted in the historic Off-Broadway production of Jean Genet's The Blacks and wrote and performed Cabaret for Freedom.

In 1960, Dr. Angelou moved to Cairo, Egypt where she served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. The next year, she moved to Ghana where she taught at the University of Ghana's School of Music and Drama, worked as feature editor for The African Review and wrote for The Ghanaian Times.

During her years abroad, Dr. Angelou read and studied voraciously, mastering French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. While in Ghana, she met with Malcolm X and, in 1964, returned to America to help him build his new Organization of African American Unity.

Shortly after her arrival in the United States, Malcolm X was assassinated, and the organization dissolved. Soon after X's assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Dr. Angelou to serve as Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King's assassination, falling on her birthday in 1968, left her devastated.

With the guidance of her friend, the novelist James Baldwin, she began work on the book that would become I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Published in 1970, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published to international acclaim and enormous popular success. The list of her published verse, non-fiction, and fiction now includes more than 30 bestselling titles.

A trailblazer in film and television, Dr. Angelou wrote the screenplay and composed the score for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia. Her script, the first by an African American woman ever to be filmed, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

She continues to appear on television and in films including the landmark television adaptation of Alex Haley's Roots (1977) and John Singleton's Poetic Justice (1993). In 1996, she directed her first feature film, Down in the Delta. In 2008, she composed poetry for and narrated the award-winning documentary The Black Candle, directed by M.K. Asante, Jr.

Dr. Angelou has served on two presidential committees, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and has received 3 Grammy Awards. President Clinton requested that she compose a poem to read at his inauguration in 1993. Dr. Angelou's reading of her poem "On the Pulse of the Morning" was broadcast live around the world.

Source: The official website of Maya Angelou: http://mayaangelou.com/

 

 

Poems by Maya Angelou


Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The free bird leaps
on the back of the win
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
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 fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and is tune is heard
on the distant hillfor the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
an 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.

 

Alone

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

 

The Lesson

I keep on dying again.
Veins collapse, opening like the
Small fists of sleeping
Children.
Memory of old tombs,
Rotting flesh and worms do
Not convince me against
The challenge. The years
And cold defeat live deep in
Lines along my face.
They dull my eyes, yet
I keep on dying,
Because I love to live.

 


Quotes by Maya Angelou

Achievement brings its own anticlimax.

All great achievements require time.

All men are prepared to accomplish the incredible if their ideals are threatened.

Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.

As far as I knew white women were never lonely, except in books. White men adored them, Black men desired them and Black women worked for them.

At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.  

Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.

Children's talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.  

Effective action is always unjust.

For Africa to me... is more than a glamorous fact. It is a historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place.

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!

I believe that every person is born with talent.

I believe we are still so innocent. The species are still so innocent that a person who is apt to be murdered believes that the murderer, just before he puts the final wrench on his throat, will have enough compassion to give him one sweet cup of water.

I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass.  

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.  

I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.

If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.  

If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.  

If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.  

If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.  

If you have only one smile in you give it to the people you love.  

It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.  

Life loves the liver of it.  

Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told: "I'm with you kid. Let's go."

Love is like a virus. It can happen to anybody at any time.  

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at it destination full of hope.

Most plain girls are virtuous because of the scarcity of opportunity to be otherwise.  

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.

My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.  

My life has been one great big joke, a dance that's walked a song that's spoke, I laugh so hard I almost choke when I think about myself.  

My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.  

Nothing will work unless you do.  

One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.  

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.  

Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.  

Self-pity in its early stages is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable.

 

Other Voices Education Project Links to the work of Maya Angelou:

"On the Pulse of the Morning," poem for President Clinton's inauguration: http://voiceseducation.org/content/maya-angelou

"Discover this Country," and "Still I Rise," in Reflective Writing and the Arts: http://voiceseducation.org/content/maya-angelou-american

"Phenomenal Woman" in International Women's Day Poetry by Women about Women: http://voiceseducation.org/node/58

"Overview of Poetry and Populism," in Democracy and the Arts, a quote: http://voiceseducation.org/node/26