More Than Just A Phenomenal Woman – Maya Angelou

As part of Black History Month, Digital Associate Editor Bella Davis pays tribute to the multi-talented American artist.

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.

Phenomenal Woman [1978]

I have always admired Maya Angelou. She was a phenomenal woman and more than just an icon.

As Barack Obama stated – Maya was “one of the brightest lights of our time—a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.”

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, April 4 1928, Maya Angelou did not face an easy childhood. Her mother and father separated when she was small, and she and her brother were sent to live with their father’s mother in Arkansas. Angelou experienced a wrath of racial prejudices and discrimination growing up in the deep South which added to her already complicated childhood – she was raped, aged seven, by her mother’s boyfriend. The boyfriend was later murdered by her uncles seeking vengeance, leaving Angelou traumatised and practically mute for five years. It was during this time that Angelou’s budding talent festered when she discovered the likes of Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. A plethora of poetry, screenwriting, acting and dancing soon blossomed, showing the world just how multi-talented she was.

As if the creative arts were not enough, Angelou was also an active supporter of the Civil rights movement and a journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonisation of Africa. Angelou received numerous honorary awards and degrees praising her for her contribution to society. Her written work is by far what she is most famous for and her witty and rich voice is extremely distinctive using powerful, touching and bold words. Four years after her death, Maya’s legacy continues to live on. At her memorial in 2014, Michelle Obama said: “She taught us that we are each wonderfully made, intricately woven, and put on this Earth for a purpose far greater than we could ever imagine.” Journalists continue to write about her, activists continue to quote her and earlier this year, Google celebrated her life with an animated doodle on its homepage, which featured celebrities reading ‘Still I Rise’.

Maya Angelou was a woman who inspired millions of people, she celebrated Black beauty and has encouraged and championed Black women to love and embrace themselves. Maya did not just speak to the Black community and Black women. She spoke to everyone, encouraging us to be completely unapologetic and authentic, transcending race and gender. Arguably, one of Angelou’s most famous poems was her 1995 poem ‘Phenomenal Women’, which universally celebrates the female form. This promotion of empowerment, inspiration, acceptance and equality has a raw and real feel to it, evoking the passion Angelou felt towards this subject.

It is incredibly hard to sum up such an inspirational and influential woman who overcame such hardship and shaped modern history, so instead I thought I would leave you with the words of Maya herself: “If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.”

Bella Davis

Image Courtesy of Stephen Parker / Alamy Stock Photo