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Maya Angelou

by sal

Marguerite Johnson is better known and beloved as poet, author, actress, playwright, and civil-rights activist, Maya Angelou.

A few years back I picked up Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and devoured it in one night. The very next day I was back at the bookstore picking up everything I could read by this extraordinary woman, and I highly recommend her autobiographical works, all of which are fairly quick reads.

She was born 4 April, 1928 in a small town in Arkansas, spending her early years with her brother under her Grandmother's strict care. Later, she reunited with her mother, only to be raped by family friend. She felt responsible for a beating death and decided she would be silent as a form of punishment. In her six years of self-imposed silence, she was a voracious reader, inspired a great deal by one of her school teachers -- and adult she finally could trust. At the age of 16, she gave birth to her only son, the result of a single sexual encounter with a young man who had no interest in maintaining a relationship with the mother of his son. During her teens, she worked at a brothel and for a time was coerced by a boyfriend to sell her own body. It's hard to believe this woman who embodies so much strength ever fell victim to overbearing, abusive men.

She met her first husband while working in a record store. He was a caucasian of Greek decent with the last name "Angelos," much to the dismay of her family and friends. Later, she'd change her last name to Angelou, even after divorcing that man.

She found herself in the middle of the civil rights movement and surrounded herself with artistic friends. She spent some time as the northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and then joined a music and dance troop that toured Europe.

Her friends introduced her to a South African freedom fighter, who became Maya's second husband. The couple moved to Africa, where Maya gained a new perspective while writing for a newspaper and teaching at the University of Ghana. During this time, Maya really grew as an individual.

Maya Angelou has published ten best selling books, including one that received a Pulitzer Prize nomination. In 1993, she delivered a poem at the inauguration of President Clinton.

Maya Angelou is currently Reynolds Professor at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Here is one of my favorite poems 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 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.