How Will you Remember Maya Angelou?

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How will you remember Maya Angelou who died last week aged 86?


Will you remember her as the poet who, at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993, delivered “On the Pulse of Morning”, which asks the nation to look to the future, and leave behind its cynicism?

“Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally

To brutishness”


Will you remember her as a memoirist? As a woman who defied the odds? Or will you remember Maya Angelou as a woman who experienced racial discrimination from her birth in Arkansas, her adolescence in San Francisco and LA , but went on to spend her life unafraid to vocalize her beliefs, and show us her life in autobiographies. These memoirs use such lyrical prose it is hard to separate from her poetry. In fact, naysayers have called her poetry nothing more than prose with line breaks.

We see her criticism of the discrimination she endured in her first autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” , published in 1969.

 “If growing up is painful for the southern black girl,” she wrote, “being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.”

I read “I Know Why the Cages Bird Sings” when I first came to San Francisco. I picked it up on a friends recommendation, as Angelou had spent part of her early adolescence in The Western Addition, which by the ’80s had displaced a good proportion of a once thriving African-American community. Much of the neighborhood was physically torn down when I arrived.

Woman of Determination Who Loved Life

How this book came to be written I found showed the heart of the woman’s determination in the obituary I read in the New York Times.

“But she remained best known for her memoirs, a striking fact because she had never set out to be a memoirist. Near the end of “A Song Flung Up to Heaven,” Ms. Angelou recalls her response when Robert Loomis, who would become her longtime editor at Random House, first asked her to write an autobiography. Still planning to be a playwright and poet, she demurred. Cannily, Mr. Loomis called her again.

“You may be right not to attempt autobiography, because it is nearly impossible to write autobiography as literature,” he said. “Almost impossible.”

Ms. Angelou replied, “I’ll start tomorrow.”

She went on to write seven memoirs, her most recent being “Mom & Me & Mom” (2013)

This video where she talks about her grandmother is very moving.

Inspirational Teacher

Here are my three favorite quotes of Maya Angelou, which I feel show her spirit, her passion and her love of life:

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”

We have lost an incredible woman, a true American icon, an African-American pioneer. But we are fortunate to have her words to find anywhere we look, to carry with us, and inspire us now she is gone.

President Barack Obama presenting Maya Angelou...

President Barack Obama presenting Maya Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are your favorite quotes or memories of Maya Angelou. What is the best thing you remember her for?

Many Thanks!

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  1. Hi AK, I like the anecdote regarding “A Song Flung Up To Heaven”. Maya Angelou certainly succeeded in writing autobiography as literature and it is this ability, her many quotable quotes and her integrity that will endure for me.
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  2. Maya Angelou has the greatest quotes. The world has lost yet another one of its greatest examples of humanity, but her writing and legacy will live on

  3. We have lost an incredible voice in Maya Angelou. Her memoirs along with her many thoughts that are quoted many times will stand the test of time. In a way, she will continue to live on through these. The question is, who will replace her as time passes… Sigh!
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  4. Until last week I had never heard of Maya Angelou, but this is the third post I’ve read about her and all three demonstrated huge respect and admiration for this lady. I will certainly be finding out more about her now.
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  5. You know how much I read, AK. But I have to admit that I never read Maya Angelou, so I’m afraid the only thing I will remember is her name:-)
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  6. There has certainly been an outpouring of respect for Dr Maya Angelou over this past week. This is the 3rd or 4th post on our little thread that I have read. She lived a long and fruitful life, even if sometimes difficult; she will be remembered forever.
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    • Yes I’ve seen a couple of others too. Such a well respected woman. Perhaps some of the difficulties she faced led to her strength. It does not happen that way for everyone, and I think that in itself is a true test of character. she certainly passed that one with flying colors.
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  7. A.K. — I have so many favorite Maya Angelou quotes. Several years ago I wrote this post that listed the ones I love. It started with this one: “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”
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    • That is such a great quote Jeanette – thanks for sharing it with us. How can someone continuously come up with that kind of inspirational stuff? It totally baffles me. It really does. But I’m so thankful that we have her quotes to help us all lead better lives.
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  8. I remember reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in the tenth grade. It’s one of the first books I remember reading and thinking how absolutely empowering it is for another human being to share their trials and tribulations with others, not out of a sense of shame, but out of a sense of love and human connection in this thing we call living because it ain’t always easy. Bad stuff happens. We can let it drag us down, or we can move on. She ALWAYS moved on.
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    • You said it Jeri. It’s pretty amazing that she would go out on a limb like that back in 1969. And she most certainly always moved on. Since she has died, the endless stream of her quotes has blown me away, as I find it overwhelming that a person can really be that insightful and inspiring. Where does it all come from? Thank goodness we have it though.
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  9. What a lovely video. Thank you. I love Maya Angelou’s voice and the way she speaks. She accomplished so much in her lifetime, despite the many odds. She left us with her legacy of many wonderful quotes, poems, books. One of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes (and there are many) is: “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”
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  10. Thank you for this thoughtful post – she is lost to us but through her words we have her always. I found a wonderful speech where she talked about labeling; how it doesn’t say enough and also says too much…she was a cool intellect who spoke in poetry; a wise woman who understood the frailty of others; a woman of courage and extraordinary performance…
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    • You’re welcome Bridget. Good to see you here:-) That’s great what she said about labelling – isn’t that the truth. But her ability to make prose into poetry was pretty amazing. Thank goodness we have her work and all her wonderful quotes to remember her by.
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  11. It’s kinda sad that I haven’t read as much of her work as I probably should have. I remember from many years ago, she talked about talking the professorship. She joked about it because she didn’t have all the schooling that many of the other professors at the time had. She did some amazing things with her life.
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  12. This is the second blog I have come across remembering Maya Angelou. For me her inspirational quotes will always be on my wall to motivate me.

  13. Beautifully presented, A.K. What a remarkable woman and treasured legacy. I particularly like her comment pulled right from the video clip you provided: “Love liberates, it doesn’t just hold – that’s ego. Love liberates.”
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  14. What a moving video. In particular what resonated was the first quote, what her grandmother told her, “When you get give; when you learn teach.” What an inspiration she is to every human being. Thanks for your lovely post and that short, inspiring video A.K.

    • It really is isn’t it Pat? Such an amazing speaking voice that captures you immediately and makes you want to listen. Her wise words are truly inspirational. I’ve been in awe at discovering all the things she has said. Thanks so much for your comment.
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  15. Maya Angelou has such great quotes. Her words will live on.

  16. Ah to leave such a legacy…we are so blessed that she walked this earth and left so much value in it. She will be with us forever. And this was a beautiful tribute AK. Thank you 🙂
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  17. Hi A.K.
    Just a small point of correction… Maya Angelou was not born in Arkansas. You’ll find that she was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928. She and her brother Bailey Johnson Jr. were sent alone by train by their father to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas in 1931.

    She definitely made the world a better place, as we should all strive to do.
    Have a nice week!

    Kind Regards,
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  18. Maya Angelou will be uniquely remembered through her writings. Not many great characters in history were able to record their own histories, through both memoirs, and her writings about all other things. We are indebted to Mr. Loomis, who seemed to know just how to deal with her!
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  19. I was not completely aware of Maya’s work but knew her to be someone very inspirational to quite a large segment of people. I think that’s how I’ll remember her: as an inspiration. Her work will carry on for a long time.
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  20. I’m sure I’ve learned more about Maya Angelou in the last week than in her lifetime. The interesting thing to me is that I recognize several of her quotes, I just didn’t know who she was. What stands out to me from what I’ve learned about her recently is her positively and ability to inspire others.
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    • I am the same Lisa, even though I’ve been familiar with her work for over thirty years. When people die we hear both the best and worst of them. In Maya Angelou’s case there was just so much good to hear. Isn’t it strange too that we know these saying, or quotes for years, but don’t know who to attribute them to. Thank you for stopping by.
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  21. She was a great woman!
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  22. AK, I have to agree with Lisa. I’ve learned more about this amazing woman in the last week than ever before. I think it’s wonderful that you put together such a great post honouring a wonderful woman. It’s a very nice tribute, and I enjoyed it immensely.

    I’ll have to visit you more often. 🙂
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  23. She was an a amazing lady. My favorite quote of hers and one I thought reflected incredible wisdom is, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
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  24. I would choose inspirational teacher.

    Debra Yearwood has it right – “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
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