Our Favorite Maya Angelou Poems, Quotes and Books
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Famous poet Maya Angelou would have been 92 years old on April 4.
Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928. Not only was she an award-winning poet and author, but she was also a songwriter, playwright, director, singer, historian and civil rights activist.
The North Star staff picked their favorite Maya Angelou books, quotes and poems to honor the famous poet and her work on her birthday. We explain, in our own words, what her work means to us and how it impacts us today.
On the Pulse of the Morning | Poem | Maria Perez, Associate Editor
I first read this poem back in high school, but it didn’t really resonate with me until after I read it again in 2016 while I was a student reporter in graduate school. Maya Angelou famously read this poem during Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. And while I have my personal feelings about Bill Clinton, this poem still moves me and makes me more hopeful of better days to come.
“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
The poem is about not being afraid to look back at darker times and to continue to push toward a future with hope. We’re living in really strange times right now and everytime I read or think of this poem, it gives me a little bit of hope.
Thank you, Maya Angelou.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” | Quote | Nicole Rojas, Senior Reporter
As someone who lives with constant anxiety, this quote from the great Maya Angelou really speaks to me. It’s a line I try to live by every day in order to have a more peace-filled life. You need to learn that you just cannot control everything that goes on around you. It’s probably one of the hardest things I have personally had to learn but there’s a power in knowing that while you can’t control what happens, you can control how they affect you. You can choose to persevere through difficult times—that’s something you have direct control over. This particular Angelou quote has been especially helpful during these stressful times we live in. I simply cannot thank her enough for her inspiring work.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings | Book | Amal, Operations Assistant
“Anything that works against you can also work for you once you understand the Principle of Reverse.”
Among other great stories and poems, this is my favorite book that Ms. Angelou has published. My mother kept a mini-library in our home for as long as I can remember. She owned copies of her published works, and one day I happened to pull this book off of a shelf. I was maybe eight, nine at most — didn’t really understand what she was saying, but read on anyway. I remember when I was about sixteen or seventeen, something in my spirit led me to the book again. I was going through a lot at that time, and it was deeply liberating for Ms. Angelou to share her life story. During that trying time, it made me feel as if I wasn’t alone, hope was definitely not lost, and the world wasn’t ending like I felt it was.
The Principle of Reverse simply means changing the channel and reshaping the thought patterns to be able to see the other end of it. It is in seeing things on the reverse, we acknowledge its benefits and try to make a mind shift. In this quote is a sea of knowledge, if you really think about it. I had a tendency to have a “woe is me” mentality, especially because I went through a series of unfortunate events within the span of such a short amount of time. In this mind space, my perception of things were always shaped around my negative experiences. It was almost as if I was looking for reasons to remain in a negative mindset. With this principle, I think what Ms. Angelou meant is that you have the capability to reclaim your power. Just like the saying “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” The first change that you have to make, in order to have an advantage, is in your mind. You have to shift your mindset. In doing so, the rest will follow.
Thank you, Ms. Angelou!
Quote | "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.”
Rai King, Operations Manager: I love this quote and use it a lot when I’m trying to help teachers understand their impact on students. Kids often can’t pinpoint the actions or behaviors that cause them to feel valued and respected by their teachers. But whether or not they can name the specific words or deeds, they always know and remember whether that teacher made them feel loved.
Willis Polk, Podcast Producer & Engineer: This is one of those quotes I heard one time and it kinda spun my entire world around. It’s so much deeper than “action speaks louder than words.” It humbles me every time I see or think about this quote. I don’t get an opinion on how other people think about me. It’s totally their decision. This quote makes me really think about what words like compassion, empathy, sympathy, love, etc. truly mean. It helps me get over myself and open my heart up to the real living breathing people walking around me. It helps me remember that by lifting up others, I am lifting up myself. It’s helped me to remind people how great they are. It’s helped me to help others find their passion. But of course, even after all that, it reminds me that I really do not know how great I’m doing at any of that. It’s not up to me to decide. I can only hope that I make people feel good about themselves.
Poem | Branden Janes, Researcher
So I’m inspired by artists who insist on performing their work. I’m motivated by artists who show multiple layers of themselves. I copy artists who float in all of their rivers, and catch all of their waves.
Ms. Angelou sang the beginning and the end of this poem, and spoke the middle part. I dig that. She used all of her artistry. She didn’t waste any of her talent. She gave all of it her time and care.
That’s a phenomenal woman.
A storyteller, a truth giver.
A novel in sixty seconds.
This clip gives me chills and fires me up all at the same time. It’s Angelou, like only Angelou can do. This poem is so precious to me because in this delivery it becomes what it is describing, a phenom; something that cannot be compared to anything, something that can only be admired.
Quote | Lyssandra Golledge, Director of Podcasts
One isn’t born with courage. One develops it.
And you develop it by doing small, courageous things, in the same way that one wouldn’t set out to pick up a 100 pound bag of rice. If that was one’s aim, the person would be advised to pick up a five pound bag, and then a ten pound, and then a 20 pound, and so forth, until one builds up enough muscle to actually pick up 100 pounds. And that’s the same way with courage.
You develop courage by doing courageous things, small things, but things that cost you some exertion – mental and, I suppose, spiritual exertion.
This quote has been rephrased, shortened, requoted countless times — but its original long-form is irreplaceable. Dr. Angelou originally said this in an interview speaking about lessons she learned from her mother. What is it about mothers?! Even wise people seem to be at their wisest when it’s about their moms.
It’s SO easy for me to look at who I want to be, and think, I don’t know how to get there. And it’s SO easy for me to look at the world, and think, I don’t know how it’s going to get kinder, more equitable. But, to me, this quote encapsulates empowerment. How do you change yourself? How do you change the world? You just start. You start with something tiny, and you do it every day. And after hundreds of days, you have become a different person. And I can only hope that the same is true for the world & the systems we grapple with every day.