In the age of #MeToo and #Time’sUp, Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise has become an anthem for those who suffer at the hands of the powerful, telling them that neither the prejudice against her skin colour nor the bias against her gender will bring down her self-esteem.
That is Angelou for you.
And perhaps that’s why Google decided to celebrate her 90th birth anniversary with a doodle set to the poem recited by her and by those on the likes of Alicia Keys, America Ferrera and Oprah Winfrey.
An author, poet, singer and a civil rights activist, Maya Angelou was catapulted to international acclaim with her semi-autobiographical work I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and wrote extensively about black culture, equality, civil rights and feminism. Here are 5 reasons why every Indian feminist need to read Maya Angelou —
1. Because equality is never served on a plate
In India, where women are called ‘Surpanakha’ for laughing too hard, Maya Angelou’s feminism in her poetry — be it Still I Rise, Caged Bird or Phenomenal Woman — emphasise that equality is never served on a plate. Angelou’s feminism has dominantly been radical, owing to the history of discrimination against African-American people.
2. Because Maya is a Phenomenal Woman
Most of her poems carry the image of a black woman because of discrimination towards women in that era. She addresses sexism in her poem Phenomenal Woman in the first stanza where she openly admits “I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size”, which is especially relevant when celebrities like Esha Gupta and Kalki Koechlin face ridicule online for posing the way they do.
3. Because she knew that, albeit slow, change is imminent
In an interview to Feminist.com, Angelou said,
“Everywhere there are women who have gotten together to examine global warming, and women who have gotten together to prepare each other for single parenting – there are women who have come together to be supportive to those whose mates are in prison, male or female, partners are in prison. All sorts of gatherings of women. I mean, I’m just celebrating my 80th year on this planet, and I look back 50 years ago and there was nothing like that.”
4. Maya was the first of many
Maya Angelou was the first female African-American cable car conductor in San Francisco, one of the first African-American women to be inducted in the Directors Guild of America and the first female poet to recite at a Presidential inauguration.
5. Because Angelou knows why the caged bird sings
Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was seven years old. She became pregnant at the age of 17. Before she became a writer, she did a series of odd jobs, including fry cook, sex worker and nightclub dancer. And that’s where her perspectives on feminism took root.
Maya Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former US President Barack Obama in 2014. She passed away on May 28, 2014, at the age of 86.