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February 15, 2024 9 mins

Maya Angelou was a people's poet -- an artist, activist, and teacher whose words resonate from Supreme Court Justices to internet memes. Learn more about her through a few of her own quotes in this episode of BrainStuff, based on this article: To hear more from today's writer, Yves Jeffcoat, listen to her podcast, On Theme: 

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Brainstuff, a production of iHeartRadio, Hey Brainstuff. Lauren
Vogelbaum here, writer, activist, entertainer, and teacher. Maya Angelou was
a beloved artist and household name, a rarity for an
African American woman who confronted controversial topics in public. She

spoke openly about race, violence, gender, and Black history in
her memoirs, poems, and speeches. Angelou is perhaps best known
for her nineteen sixty nine memoir I Know Why the
Caged Bird Sings, which recounts her childhood in Stance, Arkansas,
and San Francisco, dealing with themes of racism, identity, and

sexual violence. The book won the hearts of literary critics
and everyday readers alike, and has been reprinted numerous times,
yet it's often banned from schools for its depictions of
sexual assault and supposed anti white messaging. The success of
that first memoir spurred Angelou to write six more autobiographical books,

in addition to three books of essays, several books of poetry,
plus plays, screenplays, and even two cookbooks. She earned dozens
of honorary degrees, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a
legacy that's endured via class curricula, contemporary black feminist writers,
and even internet memes. Angelou's words are so resonant that

you can't throw a stone in US media without hitting
one of the late author's quotes. For the article, this
episode is based on How Stuff Works. Spoke with doctor
Linda Wagner Martin, author of the books Maya Angelou, Adventurous
Spirit and the Life of the author Maya Angelou. She
noted that even Judge Katanji Brown Jackson quoted Angelou at

the White House after her Supreme Court confirmation in twenty
twenty two. Jackson said, I am the dream and the
hope of the slave a, referencing a line in Angelou's
poem Still I Rise. A. Wagner Martin said, Maya Angelou
reminds us all of our better selves. Today, Let's delve
deeper into the life of this renowned author, using quotes

from Maya Angelou herself. We'll start with one that really
resonates with me. Believe people when they tell you who
they are, they know themselves better than you. This line
appeared in Angelou's sixth memoir, A Song Flung Up to Heaven,
which chronicles her life between nineteen sixty five and nineteen
sixty eight. In context, Angelou was referencing a man named

Phil who told her that he was ornery and a
liar when they first met. Weeks later, he purposefully stopped
on railroad tracks while Angelou was in his car, taking
off just in time to narrowly miss being hit by
an approaching train. The incident scared Angelou deeply and convinced
her that he was indeed as ornery as he had

proclaimed himself. But according to Wagner Martin, this was a
life lesson that likely reared its head many times over
the course of her life, especially given all the jobs
Angelou worked to support herself and her son, including fry cook,
streetcar conductor, sex worker, and nightclub singer. Wagner Martin said
people took advantage of her in the usual ways, so

she had learned to be suspicious of motives. By the
time she became the impressive public speaker that people remember,
she had lived through decades of penury, decades of various betrayals.
She knew how unkind people could be, but her message
in her dynamic lectures remained positive. The quote is sometimes
rephrased as when people show you who they are, believe them,

and Oprah Winfrey added her own twist on this. Winfrey
considered Angelou a close friend and mentor, and in a
nineteen ninety seven episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey
recalled discussing with Angelou a boyfriend who continuously stood her up.
Angelou reminded her of the life lesson and asked her
why she did didn't get it the first time he

showed he was unreliable, so Winfrey said, her adjunct to
Angelou's quote is when people show you who they are,
believe them the first time. Next up, let's consider a
line from one of Angelou's most popular poems, Still I Rise.
It goes you may shoot me with your words, you

may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me
with your hatefulness, But still like air all Rise. Angelou
was no stranger to adversity. She didn't speak at all
for several years after being sexually assaulted as a child.
She was profoundly devastated by the assassinations of Martin Luther
King Junior, and Malcolm x As. She had worked with

King and been friends with Malcolm, and she struggled with
romance and money yet her story is not mired in tragedy.
Before becoming a memoirist, Angelou was a poet. Still I
Rise addresses her personal difficulties and the collective hardships of
black people, responding to them with hope and perseverance. In

the poem, she acknowledged the hard truths of history while
envisioning a bright future. Wagner Martin said her poems, particularly
the early ones, grew from songs that she had written
while she was a dancer, singer, and actress. Angelou drew
from not only American music, but African, from free forms
that were universal, and she emphasized the sounds her poems created.

In these longer poems, she's speaking for so much human consciousness,
such broad sympathy, that her personal words reach into other
people's lives, something like an anthem might. In a musical
program at church. In nineteen ninety three, Angelou became the
second person ever to read a poem at a US
presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton's first term. For the occasion,

she composed and read on the Pulse of Mourning, in
which these lines appear. History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot
be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be
lived again. The poem was tuned to the inaugural spirit
of national renewal and hope, but it was still completely Angelou.

It highlighted themes of unity, optimism, and courage that she
often imbued in her literature. While the poem itself wasn't
a fan favorite, and people praised her performance of the
poem and the inspiration it provided. By this time, Angelou
was well established as an advocate for social change and
a celebrity artist. Her recording of the poem won a

Grammy for Best Spoken Word or Non Musical Album in
nineteen ninety four, and sales of her other works increased
in the wake of the inauguration. Then there's this lovely quote,
one must nurture the joy in one's life so that
it reaches full bloom. It was recorded in the book

In the Cloud The Wisdom and Spirit of Maya Angelou,
a tribute collection of Angelou's writing published after her death
in twenty fourteen. When it came to living a full life,
Angelou led by example. In an interview with Angelou, a
journalist Bill Moyers emphasized that she had done almost anything
she wanted to and asked her about the price she'd

paid for that freedom. Her response was, you are only
free when you realize you belong no place. You belong
every place, no place at all. Wagner Martin said, to
read through Maya Angelou's various poem collections is to see
her development not only as a poet, but as a
human being. In the above quote, Angelou made it clear

that cultivating joy is integral to a person's happiness. She
also once said, be a rainbow in somebody else's cloud.
I've had so many rainbows in my clouds. But she
had no problem putting someone out of whatever place she
inhabited for making a racist or homophobic joke or comment.

In another interview with Winfrey, Angelou said, I believe that
a negative statement is poison, and if you allow it
to perch in your house, in your mind, in your life,
it can take you over. Wagner Martin said she created
these maxims or sayings that acknowledged the widely based life
she had lived, but she did not dwell on humanity's evils.

We'll leave you with one last quote from Angelou. This
one actually came from the greeting card line she created
with hallmark of all things it goes. A wise woman
wishes to be no one's enemy. A wise woman refuses
to be anyone's victim. Today's episode is based on the

article five Eloquent and Enduring Maya Angelou quotes House with
Works dot Com, written by Eves Jeffcote. Brain Stuff is
production of iHeartRadio in partnership with HowStuffWorks dot Com and
is produced by Tyler Plain. Four More podcasts from my
heart Radio visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever
you listen to your favorite shows

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