Who Was She?
Maya Angelou’s early life was tarred by rape and prostitution. So disturbing was the abuse that she endured aged seven, she stopped talking for five years.
Despite this, she developed a love of language which saw her become a world-famous poet, civil rights activist (working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X) and award-winning author known for her acclaimed memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”.
Awards She Won?
Her achievements don’t stop there. In 2000, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton. In 2010, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the U.S., by President Barack Obama, not to mention being awarded over 50 honorary degrees and three Grammys. She was also the second poet in history to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration.
Tributes To Her?
Michelle Obama described the African-American poet as: “One of the greatest spirits the world has ever known”, Barack Obama lauded her as: “One of the brightest lights of our time – a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman” and Bill Clinton called her: “A national treasure”.
Why Does She Remain So Popular?
A truly indomitable spirit, the power of her work stems from her remarkable approach to suffering. Her poetry has been lauded for its depictions of black beauty, the strength of women and the human spirit, combining humanity, passion and dignity to stunning effect. Never losing the strength, defiance and humour which underlines her work, she rises above adversity with wit, wisdom, courage and grace. The power of her work is rooted in incongruity; despite her deep understanding of suffering and pain, she became known ultimately as a figurehead for strength, hope and survival.
Where Can You Read Her Work?
I’ve referred to two of her most loved poems below, including a personal recital of “Still I Rise”. With a commanding voice full of humour and gravitas, her poetry comes alive with her performance of it – so if you’re feeling a little run down or tired, watch, listen and be uplifted. It’s magical.
My favourite quote. It bears the test of time and is manifest in public reaction to the deaths of much loved figures such as Robin Williams, Princess Diana and Maya Angelou, herself. It was their human kindness, warmth and ability to make others laugh which people remembered, not their jobs or how much money they made.
Corny but true. In line with Buddhist thinking, the greatest achievement and fulfilment is found in selflessness. A poignant message of internal beauty in an age which is increasingly obsessed with the external.
While her brilliant poem, Phenomenal Woman, celebrates female sensuality, she focuses predominantly on the beauty of the human spirit. Defiant and poised under attack, like a tree rooted to Earth, her ability to capture what it is to be grounded brings tremendous inspiration to her readers.
Not dissimilar to Einstein’s words: “Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value”, her words are all the more humbling given her achievements.
A woman who survived many trials herself, with teenage pregnancy and marital breakdown being at the minor end of the scale, Maya Angelou is a compelling example of hope.
Marianne Williamson builds on this, praising the benefits of intention: “Magic happens when you tell the universe what you want it to do for you”. I’ve also found this to be very true.
In the words of Freud, another great mind: “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful”.
Listen to Maya Angelou’s personal recital of one of her most powerful poems on adversity at the end of this article. The determination, defiance and positivity in “Still I Rise” is infectious.
A woman who created swathes of beautiful literature, Maya Angelou is a great example of the self-generating nature of creativity. If you want to create something, whether a blog, a business or an online pin board, just do it. The rest will follow.
I’m probably one of many who have learnt this the hard way. The idea that you can change someone is one of the most idealistic going. It’s easier said than done, but truly listening to what someone tells you about themselves is emotionally economical and can save much pain. In the words of Freud: “Being entirely honest with yourself is a good exercise”.
Suffering and isolation often go hand in hand but remembering that we all experience this at different points in our lives can be very comforting. Focusing our attention outwards shifts consciousness away from our inner turmoil, creating space for hope and regeneration.
So avoid becoming too entrenched in your emotions by taking a peek at others’ adversity. The likes of Stephen Sutton who raised more than £5 million for The Teenage Cancer Trust after being diagnosed with terminal cancer at 17 years old puts things into perspective, reminding us of the positives that can come from adversity.
There’s no shame in taking a break from life if your body and mind are screaming for time out. Whether rooted in relationship breakdown, job overload or general life confusion, we’re all human – the only difference is not everybody admits it.
Simple. Nobody will change your life for you. “You are the master of your destiny” – Napoleon Hill.
Those of us born in Generation Y are very fortunate in educational, professional and travel opportunities but this freedom can confuse as well as enhance us. But however muddled we become on the journey, the fundamentals rarely change.
In the words of Mandy Hale: “True love is crystal clear” – so don’t make too many excuses for a partner who doesn’t make you feel valued.
It can take a while to learn, but love is really quite simple. Your best friends don’t let you down and – corny as it sounds – love is just friendship set on fire.
If you’re a reasonably settled soul, you’ll sometimes attract people who are lost. If you find yourself with this type of person and you’re unable to help them, you may start feeling pretty disorientated trying.
You then have a choice.
Be careful staying in a partnership which may erode your self-esteem. If you spend too much time with someone with no self-worth, this will likely manifest itself in your relationship and may start to decay your own sense of self. Instead, hang onto who you are and remember Barbara Marciniak’s words: “The quality of love you receive mirrors the value you place on yourself”.
Life’s stressful enough without laughter. Put simply by Charlie Chaplain: “A day without laughter is a day wasted”.
What have you done for yourself today for feel good factor? If the answer is: “Not much”, watch the below. Maya Angelou’s energy is contagious.