As news of Maya Angelou’s passing quickly spread, we find ourselves contemplating her tremendous accomplishments and universal resonance. The list of awards bestowed upon poet, writer, performer, professor, and activist Maya Angelou in recognition of her groundbreaking work and commanding persona is long and distinguished. Angelou received The National Medal of Freedom from President Obama and the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, as well as more than 30 honorary degrees.
Her first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) is a landmark work, and the entire story of Angelou’s life reads like a bluesy saga of a heroic and creative survivor. A regal six-feet-tall and known around the world for her distinctive voice, Angelou had been plunged into silence as a girl after a shocking trauma, and was restored to herself by the power of poetry, an experience that carried her forward as she toured the world performing “Porgy and Bess,” joined the Harlem Writers Guild and the civil rights movement, and wrote a stream of essay collections, books for children, more than a dozen poetry collections, and many more memoirs, including Mom & Me & Mom (2013), a profound chronicle of her relationship with her mother. Maya Angelou will continue to raise our spirits through her indelible works, many of gravitas, others quite mischievous, including her saucy poem, “Phenomenal Woman,” which begins:
“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.
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
Indeed. Rest in peace, Dr. Maya Angelou.