Maya Angelou, Goosebumps & Phenomenal Wisdom

Maya Angelou, Goosebumps & Phenomenal Wisdom


Maya Angelou’s work and words have had a powerful influence on my life and my own work. Writing that goes straight to the heart is what I love to read and what I endeavor to write.

maya heart

I had the good fortune to hear Maya Angelou speak in 1999. My skin tingled with gooseflesh and my heart beat in my throat as she gave a commencement address. She told the graduating class “Each of us has the possibility of being a composer, to compose the climate in which one lives…To indeed compose the neighborhood, to compose the melody of life, to compose the richness of it. To decide, ‘I will have a climate in which all men and women must be treated equal. I will compose that.’” Her voice was strong, otherworldly, powerful. Her eyes shone. The audience held its breath. Courage is key, she said, to be able to compose. “Courage, and more courage.”

maya feel

In my own life and in my writing, I try to be as courageous as I can be. I know I need to do more. But I lay claim to this composition of justice and fairness. I move characters from situations of inequality to positions of power.  In my dealings with others, I offer kindness and respect. I am imperfect, but trying to be better every day.

maya permission

These 15 years later, the world we are living in is still a work in progress toward Angelou’s dream of courageous composition. And though we have made great strides, there is so much more to do. I look to her words again for  solace.

maya defeat

I want a better, more equal, less violent world for everyone. I want to make stories that project the possibility of positive change.  I want to offer hope.

maya rainbow

Maya is definitely the rainbow in my frequently overcast disposition. This  poem from And Still I Rise, which gives every woman permission to proclaim herself as a phenomenal being, will always be my favorite of hers:


Phenomenal Woman


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


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.


I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman



Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.


Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.


Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.


maya amazing


I gave up on being normal a long time ago. I’m working on amazing and phenomenal.

I am deeply indebted to you, Maya Angelou, for all your wisdom and inspiration.


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