Maya Angelou, my hero, died at age 86 in her beautiful home in North Carolina today.
“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace,” said her son, Guy B. Johnson.
Her poem “Still I Rise,” was the first I ever recited, ever memorized, ever performed, and ever loved. As a kid her words found me in a dark place when no one else’s did, and continue to inspire me to rise beyond who I was. My only hope is that she passed knowing that she moved countless generations to poetry, and that she fermented a love of language that could leap oceans.
Inaugural, outstanding poet, will never cover how much Maya Angelou meant to the literary community. Her life and works awe millions. So I challenge you this day, in honor of a woman who was always more than just a poet, to rise above and believe that words can make a difference. In truth, they are the only things that have ever infected and effected change.
Still I Rise
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. Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells Pumping in my living room. Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise. Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops, Weakened by my soulful cries? Does my haughtiness offend you? Don’t you take it awful hard ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines Diggin’ in my own backyard. 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. 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? 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.