Maya Angelou: A Thank You Letter


Maya Angelou died today. She lived an incredibly full life, which you should read about here. She was an accomplished writer, a Tony nominated actress, a singer and dancer, a mother, and much much more. She influenced me greatly in my formative education. Something about her voice resonated with me, miles away from and decades after she grew up in the segregated South. That’s the power of poetry, of literature and memoir. The power to speak across the barriers of time and space.

caged bird                         maya-angelou-barack-obama

There has been and will continue to be much written about Ms Angelou. I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m just a fan. All I can say is that hearing voices such as hers, when you are young an eager to explore, is truly the best way to learn about the world. We must make space, on pages and in our hearts, for ever more diverse voices. Women, folks of color, people from different countries and different neighborhoods. People with different experiences than our own. This is how we learn compassion. It’s how we broaden our horizons. It’s how we learn the lessons of history, and how we figure out what we want the shape of our futures to become.

maya         angelou_free

I studied this poem in high school, I think my junior or senior year, and it has stuck with me ever since. The confidence, the pride, the unapologetic joy in her own body. It’s such a powerful message, and one that I think many young girls could seriously benefit from today. I present it now, with the utmost gratitude. For the beautiful collections of words she created, and for putting pen to paper and using her voice despite an overwhelming consensus that her’s wasn’t a voice worth hearing. I’m inspired by her words, and by her life. She remains a national treasure, a favorite poet, a phenomenal woman.


Phenomenal Woman

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.
I say,
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
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

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. 


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