Maya Angelou was and still is in death, a renowned poet, playwright, author, and civil rights activist. She is well known internationally for her brilliance and wisdom. Always on the right side of history, it is extremely difficult to imagine another woman who has positively impacted my life personally just through her words and courage. Maya Angelou was a phenomenal woman!  She wrote over 15 books, one of my favourite books is a poetry collection titled, “And Still I Rise”, it is her third volume of poetry, published by Random House in 1978. I have chosen to share this particular book as it speaks to human rights in many ways, as does most if not all her work.

“And Still I Rise” contains two of her most well-known poems, “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise”. Full of courage and integrity, Maya Angelou speaks about her experience as a black woman in the civil rights era of the USA. She was born in 1928 and having grown up in the period of segregation in the South, she was a voice for the African American community. Maya Angelou beautifully articles the harsh realities faced by her community and the ongoing impact of slavery. She speaks about racism, sexism, and gender in many of the poems, and always emphasizes the strength and resilience of the African American community. Maya Angelou was a fierce civil rights activist and was very close friends with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. She worked alongside Mr King, as the northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Working hard as a fundraiser and community organiser for Mr King, Maya Angelou contributed greatly to the freedom struggle for civil rights.

“And Still I Rise” is divided into three chapters and is made up of 32 poems in total. Chapter one, explores the strength of women and the experience of being a lover, it is titled “Touch Me, Life, Not Softly”. Chapter two, is more human rights focused and explores issues such as drug addiction, child abuse, inner-city life, and realities of living in the Old South, it is titled “Travelling”. Chapter three, reflects upon the struggles of black women, the resilience of the African American community and the strength of Maya Angelou, it is titled “And Still I Rise”.  By reading this collection of poems one can begin to understand a part of American history, the legacy of slavery and is given a creative personal brutality honest reflection of these experiences first hand. Maya Angelou’s poetry eludes fear, leaving you with a cloak of strength, boldness, and audacity.

Still I Rise

By Maya Angelou

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.

This poem is addressed to the racist oppressors of African American people. It is unapologetically powerful and the voice of a black woman willing to speak up for herself, her community and acknowledges her ancestors. Maya Angelou is clearly making a statement about the centuries of oppression and mistreatment. She affirms the strength in defiance of the oppressor and calls to the human spirit to continue to rise in the face of oppression.

When you think of a human rights poet, Maya Angelou is the answer, the gift, and the key. Speaking about “And Still I Rise”, one scholar Carol E. Neubauer sums it up perfectly stating, “These poems are inspired and spoken by a confident voice of strength that recognizes its own power and will no longer be pushed into passivity”.

Maya Angelou was a phenomenal woman!

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