Learn Something New Every Day!

Photo from Official Website

Photo from Official Website

Today Maya Angelou celebrates her 85th birthday. 

She was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, but she was mostly raised in Stamps, Arkansas by her grandmother.  From her grandmother, Maya learned spirituality, and the importance of family, faith, and the celebration of life.  Living in the rural south, she also experienced racial discrimination and being raped at the age of seven by her mother’s boyfriend. Fortunately, she overcame the horrors of her past and has become a national treasure, sharing her insights and life lessons through her work and art.

Angelou’s official website provides details about her and lavels her “a global renaissance woman.”  A Biography Website provides a short video, giving a quick review of her life and work.  The specifics of Angelou’s life are impressive, but even the highlights help show the full range of all she has done.  During WWII, she moved to San Francisco, where she won a scholarship to study dance and acting.  She also worked at a range of jobs, including being the first black female cable car conductor. Her son Guy was born in 1944.  From the mid-1950s on, she was an actor, dancer, writer and civil rights activist.  In the 1960s, she traveled extensively and became more involved with the civil rights movement back in the United States.

I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsShe wrote her most popular work, the first of several memoirs, in 1970:  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. This was the work that introduced me to this impressive woman.  But her talents do not stop there.  Her creativity continues to be expressed through acting, writing, directing, and lecturing. In 1971, she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her collection of poetry Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die.  Since 1982, she has held the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University.  Angelou mentions accepting this appointment during the following interview on the Merv Griffin Show in 1982.

In 1993, she composed and recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Clinton’s inauguration; she was the first poet to be invited to read at this event since Robert Frost read at JFK’s inauguration in 1961. The poem’s themes focus on change, inclusion and responsibility.  In 2000, Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts and in 2008 the Lincoln Medal.  Angelou continues to write and to present lectures across the country.  She has become a more familiar face to many because of her friendship with Oprah Winfrey, which included several visits on Oprah’s show.  Oprah praises Angelou as a friend and mentor, a role Angelou plays informally for the country through her writings and insights about life.  In the following video, Oprah shares one of the lessons Angelou shared with her that Oprah now shares regularly with others:  “When you know better, you do better.”

phenomenal woman“Phenomenal Woman” is my favorite poem of those written by Maya Angelou.  It was first published in 1978 along with the poem “Still I Rise.” However, they were also included in a book that was published in 1995:  Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women.  This poem shows her strength, her spirit, her confidence, even if she does not fit society’s norms. Her strength and confidence, which are so very justified, can give us all hope for ourselves and society.  I wish Maya Angelou, a truly phenomenal woman, a great birthday today as she continues to voice confidence and celebration for all of us.  Her website is right when it states, “Dr. Angelou’s words and actions continue to stir our souls, energize our bodies, liberate our minds, and heal our hearts.”

The following video gives a musical version of “Phenomenal Woman,” some tidbits about her life, and at the end a reading of “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou herself.  “Phenomenal Woman” as well as a few other quotes are presented after the video.

Maya AngelouPhenomenal 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.
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 in 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.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

If you don’t like something, change. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.

 A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

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



  1. What a great tribute to a wonderful woman! I too love “Phenomenal Woman” and the ideas she expresses should be required reading for every young girl and grown woman. Think of how different our world would be if everyone had Maya’s wisdom and self-confidence. Thank you, Patti, for sharing some of Maya’s best with us.

    • Thanks for stopping by! And I love your idea about required reading! Just making sure people at all levels reads regularly would be great!

  2. Great tribute to a worthy lady … and I must say there’s much I didn’t know about her … then again, that’s why we like learning something every day.

  3. I love the poem she wrote for President Clinton’s inauguration “On the Pulse of Morning.”

  4. […] her life, our loss.  But I decided I am not going to review her life and works in this blog.  I have done that before.  And many news sources are sharing accounts of her life today.  Instead, I want to be comforted […]

  5. tamekA gilliRd said:

    I love everything mya angelou has ever done I have loved mya angelou and everything she’s done since I was in 6th grade. I am 30 years of age now and I still love her and her work…mya angelou inspired me to write and I will always love her.

    • She is a wondrous light for all of us, even now. I was not as young as you were when I first read her works. I was in high school when I first read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” a few years after it was published. Thank goodness for my high school English teacher! Thanks for stopping by. It helps to share the loss. A friend on Facebook shared this quote from Maya earlier today: “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: