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The virtue of courage personified: Maya Angelou

“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.”

This is the first stanza of Maya Angelou’s famous poem, “Still I Rise.” As a civil rights activist, author, poet and feminist, Angelou epitomizes resilience and exemplifies the ability to rise above dismal circumstances; she is regarded as a champion for humankind.

Dr. Maya Angelou speaks with Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Friday, April 18, 2008. (Source: Tribune News Service) writes, “Multi- talented barely seems to cover the depth and breadth of Maya Angelou’s accomplishments. She was an author, actress, screenwriter, dancer and poet.”

Lucinda Moore of the Smithsonian Magazine wrote of Angelou: “Her works have earned her more than 30 honorary degrees as well as nominations for a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. She wrote ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ for the 1993 swearing-in of President Bill Clinton, becoming only the second poet in U. S. history — Robert Frost was the first, for John F. Kennedy — invited to compose an inaugural poem.”

Maya Angelou believed, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

Her first memoir, published in 1969, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” launched Angelou’s career as an author and served as an inspiration to others because of the raw honesty contained in the memoir.

Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in Saint Louis, Missouri. After her parents’ divorce, she and her brother Bailey, were sent to live with their grandma in Stamps, Arkansas. She was victim of harsh racism and oppression while living in Stamps, and her life did not improve after being whisked away to stay with her mother.

As a young girl, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, and her abuser was later beaten to death. Fearing that it was her voiced confession that caused her abuser’s murder, Angelou spiraled into a period of mutism, refusing to speak for several years.

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” depicts these memories of her early childhood, ending with her teenage pregnancy. Angelou wrote six additional memoirs following the book’s publication. Each memoir details intimate aspects of Angelou’s life that she presents openly and honestly.

In her writing, Angelou confronts topics such as racism, feminism, civil rights and the sex industry, often highlighting the unpopular or unseen opinion of these subjects.

In her second memoir, “Gather Together in My Name,” Angelou writes about her time working as a pimp and prostitute. Journalist Lauren Davidson writes in an article published for Mic Network Inc., “Angelou called ‘Gather Together in My Name’ the ‘most painful book I’ve ever written.’ But she did not feel shame at her past, nor make any attempt to cover up that part of her autobiography.”

Angelou learned to tell her story through her memoirs, and as quoted on, Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

But despite the agony of her trials, Angelou found an escape through learning and writing.

Angelou felt no need to hide her past in her memoirs. Rather, she believed others could learn from her experiences. Her work demonstrates ambition and compassion, inspiring her readers to reach
beyond their perceived capacity to succeed.

Maya Angelou continues to inspire those facing trials and oppression. Her motivational quotes are posted all over the internet, public schools and work places.

Ultimately, Angelou believed in the equality of all human beings and the necessity of love. published these words from Angelou: “We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are


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