“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…”
Maya Angelou leaves words of wisdom
The Resale Evangelista
Maya Angelou’s rich, gravelly voice woke me Wednesday, reading a bit of her heroic poem, “Still I Rise.” A moment later, the NPR host noted that Dr. Angelou had died at her home in North Carolina, at age 86. I experienced that funny little clutch of the heart that occurs when you learn that someone significant has died.
That’s all I really knew about Maya Angelou—her voice and that she was significant, a stately woman who often wore African-style turbans. She epitomized, in my mind, the word “wise,” though the only thing I ever read of hers was the first volume of her autobiography, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” and I was too young at the time to appreciate the book.
That phrase, “But still, like dust, I’ll rise…” stuck in my mind all day. Why?
Because it was funny, as well as powerful. I thought that only a woman could appreciate the truth that dust is inescapable. Because the image was indelible and sharp. Because her voice held a lilt of amusement. Later in the day I was again awakened by her voice (Alright! I nap!), this time in a 1988 Fresh Air interview—that same warm, rich voice in conversation.
So I Googled the poem. It’s an anthem to the strength of African-Americans, particularly women, who rose above the legacy of slavery, racism and abuse. Like that first stanza, the poem is filled with vivid images, humor and defiance.
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?
“Still I’ll Rise” is a celebration of our strengths as women. Read or listen to the poem. Then go out and live like Maya Angelou did—with bravura, warmth, courage and verve. I’m going to try. How about you?
Update on Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama at Angelou’s memorial, from the Vanessa Williams at the Washington Post:
More about Maya Angelou:
The Guardian’s Obituary
Poem: Phenomenal Woman
Interview on Fiction Writing in The Paris Review