Dr. Maya Angelou: civil rights activist, poet, historian, filmmaker… the list goes on. The celebrated writer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, in 2010.
She was the kind of person many others aspire to be like, and rightly so. Not only was she an activist, but she had immense talent in writing and music. Her love of the arts poured out through her lyrics, spoken word, and calypso singing, revealing a spirit that was both uncontainable and contagious in its fierce expression.
She won three Grammys for her work with spoken word and is most well-known for her award-winning memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, as well as numerous poetry and essay collections.
As an African American born in rural Arkansas in the 20’s, Maya Angelou was no stranger to racial prejudices and discrimination. As is so often the case with the most artistic among us, she was highly acquainted with darkness from an early age, experiencing numerous traumas, both publicly and privately.
At just 8 years old she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, who was then subsequently murdered for the crime by her mother’s brothers. She was so traumatized by the incident, feeling that ‘her voice had murdered him’ that she stopped talking and spent nearly five years in absolute silence. It’s believed that it was during this period of time that she developed many of the unique skills that would later make her famous.
Born on April 4, 1928, she ceased celebrating her birthday after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on that day in 1968 — her 40th birthday — sending only flowers to King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, for more than 30 years after.
With Maya’s work and many talents, she is remembered as a brilliant writer and a truly phenomenal woman, held in such high regard that her words continue to be read at weddings, funerals, and events across the world. Both her life and her art remain a message of timeless hope and inspiration for humans everywhere, cementing her place as a powerful figure in contemporary history.
Here are 18 Maya Angelou quotes on fortitude, feeling and ferocious living.
“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”
“I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me, ‘I love you.’ … There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.”
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends and living our lives.”
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because, without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
“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.”
“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.”
“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”
“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.”
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
“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 did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”