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Presented by State Library Victoria

Maya Angelou

Who was Angelou?

Certainly a high achiever, Maya Angelou published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry and was an active contributor to plays, movies and TV shows. She was an American who filled many active roles, including being a poet, singer, memoirist and civil rights activist. She lived a fulfilling life right up until she passed away at age 86 in 2014.

As an activist she travelled the world and met several prominent figures including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Although both were assassinated, she didn’t let that stop her. In 1969 she wrote and published the most influential book of modern times, which was ranked by the Time Magazine in 2011. It was called I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It was a recollection of a tough past, having been abused as a child and then became a mother at 16. She read one of her poems, On the Pulse of Morning, at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. In 2010 she was awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Why am I talking to you about a poet? Because I want you to hear her voice.

It is loud and strong and deserves to be heard.

So as Inspired Iris it is my obligation to give some inspiration. And as she is one of my motivators, I’d like to list some of Angelou’s top poems. If you’re interested I’d recommend a quick google or Youtube search for the poems or poetry readings.  They should be fairly easy to find.


Still I Rise

This poem was initially a statement contending against oppression towards African-Americans where she expresses great spirit and determination to overcome inequality. However, upon reading it I felt that she was speaking out to not just the African-Americans of her time, but for many other groups even today. Many people feel small, but Angelou’s words could build these people up with more confidence.


On the pulse of morning

She reflects on a gloomy history while prompting hope for the future and urging everyone to do their best. It mostly revolves around evolution, growth and freedom. It is especially relevant, as figures like Greta Thunberg stand up for our world’s future, seeking change, as well as several Indigenous figures stepping forward to take action on behalf of their futures. Environmental movements and indigenous movements reflect that our world has changed for the better, as it takes more and more action. But there is still heaps of room for improvement.


Phenomenal woman

The self-confident female narrator lists all the characteristics and traits that make her attractive, even though she confesses that she does not adhere to how society thinks she should look. It was written for all women, but I honestly believe she portrays an attitude that we should all have. That we are phenomenal and don’t have to appear or act like the ‘ideal’ image that others want us to be.


Caged bird

Angelou does a thorough job of symbolising how people who feel confined in life can still have hope and try to do all they can to feel free. She juxtaposes this by symbolising how others are free and live an easier life. I believe, realistically, that the ‘free bird’ is a dream. Throughout their side of the poem it seems to be at bliss; not a single worry. I don’t think there’s a single person out there that is 100% free like that bird is. In some way or another, we do get stuck. That’s part of life. Sorry for the rant. Read it online. Tell me what you think.


A Brave and Startling Truth

In this poem Angelou does a beautiful job at narrating our journey toward a mysterious destination, known as the future, while also touching on how people cannot be measured as ‘devils nor Devines’. It really gives the reader some insight on her pacifistic mindset and also what she believes to be the ‘startling truth’. If you don’t mind a deep dive into the depths of an existential confrontation then this poem is for you.


1 comment


She has such a powerful presence! I watched one of her readings of Still I Rise in class.

17th Dec, 19