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A collection of Maya Angelou's quotes and poetry

Maya Angelou, the lyrical witness to the Jim Crow South and the rise of the women's movement, will likely achieve immortality through her books, poems and speeches. Here are some of her most beloved quotations.

"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 Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That's me."

— from Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women

"If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult."

— from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Here on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister's eyes,

And into your brother's face,

Your country,

And say simply

Very simply

With hope —

Good morning.

— from On the Pulse of Morning, a poem written for the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill

of things unknown but longed for still

and his tune is heard on the distant hill

for the caged bird sings of freedom."

— from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

"I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it."

— from Letter to My Daughter

"Be a rainbow in someone else's cloud."

— from Letter to My Daughter

"When you learn, teach. When you get, give."

"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."

"One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest."

"Nothing can dim the light which shines from within."

"History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again."

"We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated."

"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."

"You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it."

Epitaph: A Song Flung up to Heaven was the sixth and final volume of her autobiography, published in 2002 and including memories of motherhood, as well as the assassinations in the 1960s of her friends Malcolm X and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The last sentence of that volume is the same as the first sentence of the first:

"What are you looking at me for?" she wrote. "I didn't come to stay."


Angelou's life through

her autobiographies

• I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969): her life to age 17 in 1944

• Gather Together in My Name (1974): 1944–1948

• Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas (1976): 1949–1955

• The Heart of a Woman (1981): 1957–1962

• All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986): 1962–1965

• A Song Flung Up to

Heaven (2002): 1965–1968


• On the Pulse of Morning, written for President Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993

• Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971)

• And Still I Rise (1978)

• Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women (1995)

• His Day is Done, 2012

Awards, honors

Pulitzer Prize nomination for her book of poetry Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie

Tony Award nomination for her role in the 1973 play Look Away

Three Grammys for her spoken albums

National Medal of Arts awarded by President Bill Clinton

2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, awarded by President Barack Obama


Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes (2004)

Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart (2010)

Children's books

Life Doesn't Frighten Me (1993)

Maya's World series (2004)


Cabaret for Freedom (musical revue), with Godfrey Cambridge, 1960

The Least of These, 1966

The Best of These, 1966

And Still I Rise (writer/director), 1976

Film and television

Black, Blues, Black! (ten one-hour programs, National Education Television), 1968

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (writer for script and musical score), 1979

Sister, Sister (writer), 20th Century Fox Television, 1982

Brewster Place (writer), ABC, 1990


Miss Calypso, Scamp Records, 1957

For the Love of Ivy, ABC Records, 1968

A collection of Maya Angelou's quotes and poetry 05/28/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 10:57pm]
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