A Phenomenal Spirit Always

Maya Angelou, African American Writer and Poet died on Wednesday 28th May, 2014 aged 86. I attribute my lifelong love of the written word and my first attempts at writing to the both the influence of my father and Maya Angelou. On reading her first memoir 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings' I still recall my total fascination at her mastery of words, words so powerful they held the ability to transport me into a different world, her world. I couldn't put the book down, just had to finish it in one day. Today a good book still holds me spellbound and Maya Angelou standards of excellence remain my benchmark.

Angelou, was born Marguerite Annie Johnson, in St Louis, Missouri on April 4th 1928. Raised by her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas a childhood rape and the aftermath resulted in her becoming mute for five years. Those silent years turned the young Maya to reading every book she could lay her hands on. Her early career included amongst other things working as a singer and dancer, actress and waitress. By the end of her life she had added to that list poet, educator, playwright, activist, historian, producer, actor and director, a journey she generously shared with us in her series of autobiographies that sold millions around the world alongside her 36 other books including poetry and children's books. She spent time travelling in Europe and Africa in the 1960's where she became a journalist and academic.

Maya Angelou
Angelou received many awards and titles in her lifetime, Grammys for her spoken word albums, Tony awards for her plays, National Book Awards, The National Medal of Arts, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the list goes on and on but to me her biggest achievement was her ability to inspire.

A woman of so many talents, a lady who rose to great heights from the most humble of beginnings but even when at the top of her game, she had the ability to make an audience of millions feel that every word she spoke was being spoken directly to them. The higher she rose, the more grounded she appeared.

What most fascinated me about Maya Angelou was her use of words. When she spoke, especially on the subject of the human condition and the inequality and injustice she identified throughout her life, her use of words perfectly conveyed her message. Never too much said or too little, the exact measure delivered. In her poetry she could convey the essence of a nation, describe centuries of history in just a few paragraphs precisely. I often found myself as mesmerised by her oratory skills as I did her use of the written word.

One of my favourite Maya Angelou quotes reads:
'Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.'

That was the strength of Angelou, her ability to be human, simply. Embracing her human strengths but also her weaknesses, sharing her wrongs and celebrating her rights, shining the light on those dark times whilst reminding us not ever to let those challenges close our minds and spirit to the potential joy of the human experience. She taught us that we have the ability to change our reality and encouraged us to hold on to the courage to keep trying.

In her poem Still I Rise she writes:
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.
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.

A verse from her poem Phenomenal Woman reads:
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.

Maya Angelou, a truly Phenomenal Woman will continue to Rise in the minds of those she inspired on her journey. We Thank You.

By Angela Hinds


Your comments

Intelligent black woman. Sad to lose you.
James , USA, New York

She illustrated given opportunity black woman can lead people.
Ole , Nigeria, Lagos

I hope more black women can follow her example and courage for better future for black people.
Janet , UK, London

A strong black woman indeed my our youth here in Africa follow her route n change ur continent
Annanius Legoabe , RSA

If African Women were not strong, we would still be slaves or dead. To date in England we are 10% of the population. The prison records for African men speaks volumes. slavery still exist, the head of the African family has been used for other purposes, sold down the road, into mental health, prison. As it was in the beginning so shall it be in the end. ? how was it in the beginning?
Chineyere Ok Okan , England

If given an opportunity (and luck)we African women can do better with our lives,Maya Angelou also proves what I've always believed that an education can change women's plight around the world.Thanks Maya for having shared my life with you even though I haven't met you
Thandah , Durban South Africa

i hope melanic tees pays tribute by designing a t shirt! thank you everything you wrote was really nice!! my favorite poet!
april , detroit

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