Maya Angelou: What Can We Learn From Her?


“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.”
― Maya Angelou

She defied all the norms. Standing tall and talking in a majestic tone, she was no less than a queen. Born Marguerite Ann Johnson, Ms. Maya Angelou was known for many things: her wisdom, her activism, her acting, her singing, but most of all, for her writing. With more than two dozen books (that includes autobiographies, cookbooks, and books of essays) to her credit, she was a literary icon.

Based on themes of love, family, feminism, race and heartbreak, almost all of her books have been adored by her readers. I doubt if there is any book lover who hasn’t read her works, but if you haven’t then here is a list of the ones you should read:

Just Give Me A Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie

Published in 1971, this is her first collection of poetry, many of which sound like song lyrics. That’s because she wrote them while working as performer in a night club. Divided into two sections Where Love is A Scream Anguish and Just Before the World Ends, it features poems on love and racism respectively.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Her most famous book, I Know…is her autobiography about her journey from when she was a young six-year-old child to when she became a mother at the age of 16. The language of this book not only conveys to the readers the challenges—racism, molestation and rape— that she faced along with her younger brother, but also brings out the emotional turmoil that she went through. Named one of the All TIME Best 100 Non-Fiction works, Caged Bird is nothing short of a revolutionary book.

Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now 

Also referred to as Angelou’s “wisdom book”, Journey is her first collection of essays (mostly autobiographical) and a couple of poems.

“Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that as well.” 

And Still I Rise

A collection of 32 poems, Still I Rise is a book that can turn your life around. With poems like “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise”, she speaks of rising above challenges with strong determination.

“Had I known that the heart breaks slowly, dismantling itself into unrecognizable plots of misery… had I known yet I would have loved you, your brash and insolent beauty, your heavy comedic face and knowledge of sweet delights, but from a distance I would have left you whole and wholly for the delectation of those who wanted more and cared less.” 

Mom & Me & Mom

Her last book is the only one that describes her relationship with her mother. Narrating the story of her mother’s abandonment of Angelou, it also talks about their reunion.

“remember this: When you cross my doorstep, you have already been raised. With what you have learned…you know the difference between right and wrong. Do right. Don’t anybody raise you from the way you have been raised. Know you will have to make adaptations, in love, in relationships, in friends, in society, in work, but don’t let anybody change your mind.” 

Mom… ends with her mother’s death, but along with that are Angelou’s final words to her, “You were a terrible mother of small children, but there has never been anyone greater than you as a mother of a young adult.”

While there are many other books that Angelou has written, these are the ones you shouldn’t miss.

WARNING: Maya Angelou’s books aren’t for the weak-hearted.

Shraddha Jandial

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