Maya Angelou

American poet, author, and civil rights activist (1928–2014)

Maya Angelou (4 April, 192828 May, 2014), born Marguerite Annie Johnson, was an American poet, author, memoirist, actress, director, producer, writer, singer, dancer, and civil rights activist.

Develop enough courage so that you can stand up for yourself and then stand up for somebody else.
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.

Quotes edit

Without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.
  • We delight in the beauty of butterfly, rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty*
  • I don't trust people who don't love themselves and tell me "I love you." … There is an African saying which is: "Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt."
    • The Distinguished Annie Clark Tanner Lecture, 16th-annual Families Alive Conference, Weber State University, May 8, 1997 - Full text online at
  • Self-pity in its early stages is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable.
  • Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.
    • As quoted in USA Today (5 March 1988)
    • Variant:
    • 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.
      • As quoted in Diversity : Leaders Not Labels (2006) by Stedman Graham, p. 224
  • There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.
    • As quoted in The Truth in Words (2005) by Neal Zero
  • I am capable of what every other human is capable of. This is one of the great lessons of war and life.
    • As quoted in Goal Mapping : How to Turn Your Dreams into Realities (2006) by Brian Mayne, p. 84
  • My life has been long, and believing that life loves the liver of it, I have dared to try many things, sometimes trembling, but daring, still…You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud. Do not complain. Make every effort to change things you do not like. If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution. Never whine. Whining lets a brute know that a victim is in the neighborhood. Be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity. I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native American and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all. Here is my offering to you.
    • Letter to My Daughter (2009) p xi-xii
  • My dear, when people show you who they are, why don't you believe them? Why must you be shown 29 times before you can see who they really are? Why can't you get it the first time?
    • As quoted by Oprah Winfrey.[1]
    • Oprah Winfrey's paraphrase:
      • When people show you who they are, believe them.[2]
  • You did in your twenties what you knew how to do, and when you knew better you did better. And you should not be judged for the person that you were, but for the person that you're trying to be and the woman that you are now.
    • As quoted by Oprah Winfrey.[3]
    • Oprah Winfrey quoted this from a personal conversation with her friend, Maya Angelou.[4]
    • Often misquoted as "Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.", "When you know better, do better." and "When you know better, you do better."
  • All information belongs to everybody all the time. It should be available. It should be accessible to the child, to the woman, to the man, to the old person, to the semiliterate, to the presidents of universities, to everyone. It should be open.
    • As quoted in Interview: How Libraries Changed Maya Angelou's Life, by Angela Montefinise, October 29, 2010
  • My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.
  • How important it is to recognise and consider our heroes and she-roes.
    • Quoted in: Kabir, Hajara Muhammad (2010). Northern women development. [Nigeria]. ISBN 978-978-906-469-4. OCLC 890820657.
  • I'm an American, and most of the time proud of it. Even when I am displeased with what my country is doing, I am still an American who is displeased. And fortunately, being an American, I don't have to whimper, I don't have to whine, I have the right to protest, and I like that.[5]
  • You develop courage, the most important of all the virtues, because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently. If you've seen another truth and had enough courage to change your way of thinking, to say "Hey everybody, you know what I said last week? I don't believe that anymore. A little child just straightened me out."[5]
  • This a wonderful day. I've never seen this one before
    • A Tweet from May 17, 2013 mentioned in her obituary in the Christian Science Monitor.[6][7]
  • Develop enough courage so that you can stand up for yourself and then stand up for somebody else.
    • in Rainbow in the Cloud: The Wisdom and Spirit of Maya Angelou (2014), p. 68
  • I want to write so that the reader in Des Moines, Iowa, in Kowloon, China, in Cape Town, South Africa, can say, "You know, that's the truth. I wasn't there, and wasn't a six-foot black girl, but that's the truth."
    • quoted in Every Day a Word Surprises Me & Other Quotes by Writers by Phaidon (2018) with citation

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) edit

  • The needs of a society determine its ethics.
    • often misquoted as "The needs of society determine its ethics", and with less context than the full statement: "The needs of a society determine its ethics, and in the Black American ghettos the hero is that man who is offered only the crumbs from his country's table but by ingenuity and courage is able to take for himself a Lucullan feast." The title of Angelou's book comes from the poem "Sympathy" by Paul Laurence Dunbar.
  • You don't have to think about doing the right thing. If you're for the right thing, then you do it without thinking.
    • Quoting her mother's statement after her son's birth
  • At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.
  • I believe most plain girls are virtuous because of the scarcity of opportunity to be otherwise.
    • Ch. 35
  • Life is going to give you just what you put in it. Put your whole heart in everything you do, and pray, then you can wait.

And Still I Rise (1978) edit

You can kill me with your hatefulness,
But just like life, I'll rise.
A black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling and bearing in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak miraculously clear
I rise.
  • You were a precious pearl
    How I loved to see you shine,
    You were the perfect girl.
    And you were mine.
    For a time.
    For a time.
    Just for a time.
    • "Just for a Time"
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • "Still I 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?
    • "Still I Rise"
  • Out of the huts of history's shame
    I rise
    Up from a past that's rooted in pain
    I rise
    I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
    Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
    • "Still I Rise"
  • Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
    I rise
    Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
    I rise

    Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
    I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
    I rise
    I rise
    I rise.
    • "Still I Rise"
  • I went to sleep last night
    And I arose with the dawn,
    I know that there are others
    Who're still sleeping on,
    They've gone away,
    You've let me stay,
    I want to thank You.
    • "Thank You, Lord"

Conversations with Maya Angelou (1989) edit

  • You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. (1982; quoted in the Introduction by Jeffrey M. Elliot)
  • I asked if she had any hard feelings about life. "No, I don't. There are many things I wish were better for a number of people for all of us really. We could have such a great time, sharing, laughing, growing, teaching, learning, dying. Coretta King said the greatest violence is seeing a child go to bed hungry. These are the great violences: assaults on the body and soul. Hunger, poverty, fear, dirt, and guilt and I will not have it. That is what my life is about highlighting these things and, hopefully, encouraging others to help make things better. But bitterness about life, no. Life is like electricity; it's just there. You can plug into that electricity and light up a synagogue, or a church, or keep a heart machine going; or you can electrocute a man. Life is the same way. It says, 'Okay, I'm going to be in your unit for a bit. Want to use me? Want to walk around drugged or sick? All right. It's your business. No value judgments! I'm here for you to use.' Life! When it's through with me, I hope to be through with it. I'll tip my hat, and split." (1974)
  • I think there is always a need in any struggle for sensationalists. They get the headlines, they get the ear of the public, they take the race horse chances. Ofttimes they are the martyrs, but often they're not even right. You hear them speaking in your behalf and you say, "Yuch. You're not qualified. You know the rhetoric, but you're unprepared." But I don't put them down-except to their faces. If we meet somewhere quietly, say in this room, I'm ruthless. I'll say, "How dare you not take four hours to read up on W.E.B. Du Bois? What makes you talk such bullshit?" But that's privately. If I'm asked publicly, I'll say, "God bless them in their struggle." (1975)
  • I can become quite angry and burning in anger, but I have never been bitter. Bitterness is a corrosive, terrible acid. It just eats you and makes you sick. (1977)
  • I tell you one of the most aggravating things of all is to pick up a review of a work of mine and have a reviewer say, "She is a natural writer." That sometimes will make me so angry that I will cry, really, because my intent is to write so it seems to flow. I think it's Alexander Pope who says, "Easy writing is damn hard reading," and vice versa, easy reading is damn hard writing. Sometimes I will stay up in my room for a day trying to get two sentences that will flow, that will just seem as if they were always there. (1977)
  • There were two men who probably formed my writing ambition more than any others. They were Paul Laurence Dunbar and William Shakespeare. I love them. I love the rhythm and sweetness of Dunbar's dialect verse. I love "Candle Lighting Time" and "Little Brown Baby." I also love James Weldon Johnson's "Creation." I am also impressed by living writers. I'm impressed with James Baldwin. I continue to see not only his craftsmanship but his courage. That means a lot to me. Courage may be the most important of all the virtues because without it one cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. I'm impressed by Toni Morrison a great deal. I long for her new works. I'm impressed by the growth of Rosa Guy. I'm impressed by Ann Petry. I'm impressed by the work of Joan Didion ... I would walk fifty blocks in high heels to buy the works of any of these writers. I'm a country girl, so that means a lot. (1983)
  • There are some young Black women, however, that I particularly want to talk about, younger than I in any case, young Black women who are writing, who are inspirational to me. For example, a group of young women in Atlanta have a magazine called Sage. I'm impressed with Gloria Naylor's continuing to work. I'm impressed certainly with Alice Walker. I was hopeful and am still hopeful of Ellease Southerland who wrote a book many years ago called Let the Lion Eat Straw. A wonderful book. Lucille Clifton and Carolyn Rodgers and those younger Black women who have not become well known. That they continue to struggle and write is inspirational.
    • From a 1988 interview in Conversations with Maya Angelou (1989)
  • I started writing when I was mute. I always thought I could write because I loved to read so much. I loved the melody of Poe and I loved Paul Laurence Dunbar. I had memorized so much of Dunbar, Poe, Shakespeare, James Weldon Johnson, Longfellow. When my son was able to be quiet enough to listen, I taught him those poets. A few years ago he gave a reading of his poetry and he started the reading by saying "First, let me recite to you some of the poets my mother raised me on . . ." In the contemporary world, I confess to having been impressed by Ann Petry. I had The Street in my hand, I used to carry it around… (1988)
  • I still feel you should rock the boat. And if you're not in it, you should turn it over. But not unthinkingly. Protest without serious consideration is dangerous. You have to back up what you say. But once you find the truth, you ought to be prepared to stand on the street corner and use all your gifts to right the wrong. (1986)

I Shall Not Be Moved (1990) edit

Glory falls around us
as we sob
a dirge of
desolation on the Cross.
We grow despite the
horror that we feed
upon our own
We grow.
We cry for you
although we have lost
your name.
  • Glory falls around us
    as we sob
    a dirge of
    desolation on the Cross

    and hatred is the ballast of
    the rock
which lies upon our necks
and underfoot.
  • "Glory Falls"
  • We grow despite the
    horror that we feed
    upon our own
    We grow.
    • "Glory Falls"
  • Petulant priests, greedy
    centurions, and one million
    incensed gestures stand
    between your love and me.
    • "Savior"
  • Visit us again, Savior.

    Your children, burdened with
    disbelief, blinded by a patina
    of wisdom,
    carom down this vale of
    fear. We cry for you
    although we have lost
    your name.

    • "Savior"
  • I have need of a friend.

    There is one and only one
    who will give the air
    from his failing lungs
    for my body's mend.

    And that one is my love.

    • "Many and More"

Paris Review Interview (1990) edit

Issue 116, Interviewed by George Plimpton
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne says, "Easy reading is damn hard writing." I try to pull the language into such a sharpness that it jumps off the page. It must look easy, but it takes me forever to get it to look so easy.
  • I know when it's the best I can do. It may not be the best there is. Another writer may do it much better. But I know when it’s the best I can do. I know that one of the great arts that the writer develops is the art of saying, No. No, I’m finished. Bye. And leaving it alone. I will not write it into the ground. I will not write the life out of it. I won’t do that.
  • Years ago I read a man named Machado de Assis who wrote a book called Dom Casmurro. Machado de Assis is a South American writer — black father, Portuguese mother — writing in 1865, say. I thought the book was very nice. Then I went back and read the book and said, Hmm. I didn’t realize all that was in that book. Then I read it again, and again, and I came to the conclusion that what Machado de Assis had done for me was almost a trick: he had beckoned me onto the beach to watch a sunset. And I had watched the sunset with pleasure. When I turned around to come back in I found that the tide had come in over my head. That’s when I decided to write.
  • Yes. When I’m writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness.

A Brave and Startling Truth (1995) edit

If we are bold, love strikes away the chains of fear from our souls.
It is possible and imperative that we discover
A brave and startling truth.
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonders of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
Written for the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations
  • We, unaccustomed to courage
    exiles from delight
    live coiled in shells of loneliness
    until love leaves its high holy temple
    and comes into our sight
    to liberate us into life.
  • If we are bold, love strikes away the chains of fear from our souls.
  • Love costs all we are
    and will ever be.
    Yet it is only love
    which sets us free.
    A Brave and Startling Truth.
  • It is possible and imperative that we discover
    A brave and startling truth.
  • When we come to it
    We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
    Created on this earth, of this earth
    Have the power to fashion for this earth
    A climate where every man and every woman
    Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
    And without crippling fear

    When we come to it
    We must confess that we are the possible
    We are the miraculous, the true wonders of this world
    That is when, and only when
    We come to it.

We Had Him (2009) edit

We are missing Michael.
But we do know we had him, and we are the world.
A poetic tribute to Michael Jackson - Full text online at official site - Poem and video at MTV (recited by Queen Latifah )
  • Though we are many, each of us is achingly alone, piercingly alone.
    Only when we confess our confusion can we remember that he was a gift to us and we did have him.

    He came to us from the creator, trailing creativity in abundance.
    Despite the anguish, his life was sheathed in mother love, family love, and survived and did more than that.
    He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style. We had him whether we know who he was or did not know, he was ours and we were his.
  • We are missing Michael.
    But we do know we had him, and we are the world.

Misattributed edit

  • A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song
    • Although it appears on U.S. postage featuring Angelou, this is actually a variant quote from the work of poet Joan Walsh Anglund. [8]
  • There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
    • This is actually from Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks On the Road, though it is widely attributed to Ms. Angelou's book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
  • Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.
    • Nearly identical quote attributed to a 1995 TV show, Touched by an Angel [1]: Tess: No, hate has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it's never solved one yet.
  • People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.
    • This is a very close paraphrase of a quotation attributed to Carl Buehner in a book published many years earlier - “They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.” quoted in Richard Evans' Quote Book, 1971, Publisher's Press, ASIN: B000TV5WBW, although it is widely (mis)attributed to Angelou in her book Worth Repeating: More Than 5,000 Classic and Contemporary Quotes (2003) by Bob Kelly, p. 263,

Quotes about Maya Angelou edit

  • silence can also enrich you very much. Maya Angelou talks about a long period in her childhood when she was silent, and during those years she turned evil into action. All the evil that had happened to her she was raped-was turned into a positive strength, into energy, because of those years of silence. She reinterpreted the world, recreated reality. In a way, I think, that happened to me, too. Not as dramatically as it happened to her, but those years of silence were very necessary.
  • I remember a kind of paraphrase, a quote from Maya Angelou; I don't recall the exact words, but paraphrased it kind of goes like this: if you have to hang by your feet and smear honey on your legs to get yourself writing, then do it. You know whatever works.
  • To me, the great writers who come from ethnic minorities writing in English come from America. I think the deep, the real deep thinkers now writing in the English language are the black women, such as Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, etc. (F.J.: Where they are using black English in a certain kind of way to signify their difference?) Emecheta: Exactly...Or Maya Angelou-she's another good writer, isn't she? You can understand what she is saying.
    • Buchi Emecheta In Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World edited by Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbrock (1992)
  • In remembering Maya Angelou, it is important to recall her commitment to the struggle for equality, not just for herself, or for women, or for African Americans. She was committed to peace and justice for all.
  • While some schools and libraries still censor her work for unflinchingly depicting the life she led, it was through my hometown library, while in my early teens, that I first saw Maya Angelou. The library invited her to speak, and speak she did—and danced, and sang, in a display of talent that made us laugh, cry and gasp as she moved her black and white audience of hundreds…together.
  • "She has become, now a legend," he said...Miss Angelou has a presence that commands attention. Haley called it "Hollywood energy. "When she walks into the room, you know she's there," Haley said. "It's a palpable thing."
  • Most great instigators of social change have intimate personal knowledge of trauma. Oprah Winfrey comes to mind, as do Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, and Elie Wiesel. Read the life history of any visionary, and you will find insights and passions that came from having dealt with devastation.
    • Bessel van der Kolk The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014)
  • The day I received a hand written note from Maya Angelou, stating that she had read The Margarita Poems and I should consider her another Margarita, was a private moment of recognition.
  • Singer, teacher, dancer, poet, authoress, actress, editor, songwriter, playwright. Someone has said Maya Angelou's career has touched more bases than Henry Aaron. Yet all these categories fail to do justice to the scope of her life.
  • It is such a profound honor — truly a profound honor — to be here today on behalf of myself and my husband as we celebrate one of the greatest spirits our world has ever known, our dear friend Dr. Maya Angelou. In the Book of Psalms it reads, “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” What a perfect description of Maya Angelou and the gift she gave to her family and all who loved her. She taught us that we are each wonderfully made, intricately woven and put on this earth for purpose far greater than we could ever imagine. When I think about Maya Angelou I think about the affirming power of her words. The first time I read “Phenomenal Woman” I was struck by how she celebrated black women’s beauty like no one had ever dared to before. Our curves, our stride, our strength, our grace. Her words were clever, and sassy. They were powerful and sexual and boastful. And in that one singular poem, Maya Angelou spoke to the essence of black women but she also graced us with an anthem for all women, a call for all of us to embrace our God-given beauty. And oh, how desperately black girls needed that message. As a young woman I needed that message. As a child, my first doll was Malibu Barbie — that was the standard for perfection. That was what the world told me to aspire to. But then I discovered Maya Angelou, and her words lifted me right out of my own little head. Her message was very simple: She told us that our worth has nothing to do with what the world might say. Instead she said, “Each of us comes from the creator trailing wisps of glory.” She reminded us that we must each find our own voice, decide our own value, and then announce it to the world with all the pride and joy that is our birthright as members of the human a time when there were such stifling constraints on how black women could exist in the world, she serenely disregarded all the rules with fiercely passionate, unapologetic self. She was comfortable in every inch of her glorious brown skin. But for Dr. Angelou her own transition was never enough. You see, she didn’t just want to be phenomenal herself. She wanted us all to be phenomenal right alongside her. So that’s what she did throughout her lifetime. She gathered so many of us under her so many ways Maya Angelou knew us. She knew our hope, our pain, our ambition, our fear, our anger, our shame. And she assured us that in spite of it all — in fact, because of it all — we were good. And in doing so, she paved the way for me, and Oprah and so many others just to be our good ol’ black women selves. She showed us that eventually, if we stayed true to who we are, then the world would embrace us. And she did this not just for black women but for all women. For all human beings. She taught us all that it is okay to be your regular old self, whatever that is. Your poor self, your broken self, your brilliant, bold, phenomenal self. That was Maya Angelou’s reach.
  • "Gratitude Pillow" ("Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel" -Maya Angelou) ...if anyone told her they were going/to Gloomy Street,/she'd say, What? Lift those eyes. Take a look at the/sea to your right, buildings full of mysteries, schools/crackling with joy, open porches,/watch the world whirl by,/all we are given without having to own, and shake/that gloom right out of your system!

References edit

  1. . (2011-10-26). "When people show you who they are, believe them" Oprah's Lifeclass.Season 1.Episode 13. Oprah Winfrey Network.
  2. . (1997-06-18). "Book club finale" The Oprah Winfrey Show.
  3. . (1994-11-02). "What would you save in a fire?" The Oprah Winfrey Show.
  4. You Did What You Knew How To Do, and When You Knew Better, You Did Better (2022-11-30). Retrieved on 2024-05-22.
  5. a b . (2006-11-30). "Dave Chappelle & Maya Angelou" Iconoclasts.
  6. Barber, Elizabeth (2014-05-28). Remembering the colossal Maya Angelou: 'But still, like air, I'll rise'. Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved on 2023-03-25.
  7. @DrMayaAngelou (2013-05-17). This a a wonderful day. I've never seen this one before..
  8. Josh Hicks (7 April 2015). Postal Service releases Maya Angelou stamp with quote from another author. Washington Post. Retrieved on 9 April 2015.

External links edit

Wikipedia has an article about: