Maya Angelou – The Phenomenal Woman

All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated. – Maya Angelou

When I first decided to portray Maya Angelou, I was  bit afraid by the task and I didn’t know how to start. I have so much admiration for this woman I think I would never be able to transcript it properly.

She has had such an incredible life, and let such a great legacy with numerous of books and poems and she was also a pioneer as a black woman in fields such as cinema, theater and literature.

During her life she has been a writer, a poetess, a journalist, an actress, a singer, a dancer, a screenplay writer, a film director, an activist, a composer, a theater director, a college professor, and a world traveler, but above all she did whatever she wanted to, without letting “no experience” or “no diploma” stop her. She really got the black girl magic at its finest.

“I’m awesoooome”

She wrote articles, short stories, TV scripts, documentaries, autobiographies, and poetry, produced plays, and was named visiting professor at several colleges and universities. She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for her role in Look Away. As a theater director, in 1988 she undertook a revival of Errol John’s play Moon on a Rainbow Shawl at the Almeida Theatre in London.

Her movie Georgia, Georgia produced by a Swedish film company and filmed in Sweden and released in 1972 was the first screenplay written by a black woman. She also wrote the film’s soundtrack.

She has also been the first black woman film director in 1996 Down in the Delta movie.

Born in 1928 in a segregated America, her life yet, didn’t begin under the best auspices. Raped at 8, mute until 13, mother at 17, she never had a bachelor degree, but she still managed to be one of the most influential personality of her time.

Her genius is unanimously recognized and celebs like Barack Obama, Serena Williams mention regularly her work as a source of inspiration and wisdom, she was Oprah Winfrey’s friend and Mentor and we can find her motivations quotes everywhere on the internet.

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Her most famous works are her books. She wrote about her life in a series of seven autobiographies.

When, the first of the series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969, she was one of the first African-American women to be able to publicly discuss her personal life.

« According to scholar Hilton Als, up to that point, black female writers were marginalized to the point that they were unable to present themselves as central characters in the literature they wrote. »

Telling her truth was in the center of her work  and she even wrote about the darkest part of her life such as the rape she has been the victim of and her past as a sex worker.

Although some have tried to erase this from her past, Angelou was public about it. She said, “I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, ‘I never did anything wrong. Who, Moi? – never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.’ They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think, ‘Damn I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.’ They can’t forgive themselves and go on with their lives. So I wrote the book Gather Together in My Name”, about her past as a sex worker.

She was a world traveler, and a linguist, she traveled throughout the USA and Europa, she lived in Cairo and several years in Accra in Ghana.

Her fame and recognition exploded in 1993, when Madam Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, becoming the first black woman poet to make an inaugural recitation.

Friend with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King before their death, activist for the civil rights all her life, in 2008 Barack Obama’s election she stated, “We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism.” And, despite everything  I want to believe she was true. She died on april 2014 at aged 86, in her house in Winston-Salem.


There is still so much to say about her as she lived so many lives in one, but I will end this portrait with one of my favorite poems of her that could be the #blackgirlmagic movement anthem : Phenomenal Woman.

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 Angelou.April 4th 1928 – May 28th 2014

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Black Girls Magic

«You may write me down in history ; with your bitter, twisted lies ; You may trod me in the very dirt ; But, still, like dust, I’ll rise » Maya Angelou

“Black Girl Magic is a concept and movement originated by CaShawn Thompson in 2013 to, as Julee Wilson described it at The Huffington Post, “celebrate the beauty, power and resilience of black women.” Wilson offers the definition: “a term used to illustrate the universal awesomeness of black women. It’s about celebrating anything we deem particularly dope, inspiring, or mind-blowing about ourselves.”

This is the definition of « Black girl magic » given by Wikipedia. The term that we’ve seen coming around often this past few years on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #blackgirlsmagic is for me source of encouragement and inspiration.

As black women in the modern society we have more than one reason to feel depreciated. Underrepresented in the medias, it was once hard for a little black girl to find a role model to look up to.

So long black women have been called ugly, too strong, too wild.

It made me so angry when one day I stumbled upon this racist rag called a study titled «Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women? » (yes it is a real study, you can click on the link if you have 5 minutes of your life to lose.)

Even on the highest spheres black women are subjects of racism, injures and mockery.  The most recent examples are Meghan Markle an American actress dating Prince Harry facing the most repugnant comments because she is, or part of her is, black.

Or the still First lady of the US, Michelle Obama, called « an Ape in high heels » by a white woman official.

Most educated group in the US, fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the world, but yet always undervalued and victims of not only racism but also sexism.

And even if they’ve always been in the front line of every fight again racism (the civil rights, the black panthers, the black lives matter movement…), they are often castigated by their very own companions of struggles : the black men.

This is what I personally find the most hurtful. How many times while I was talking to a black man he felt obliged to justify his interracial dating choice (which I have no problem with) by attacking black women?

« I don’t date black girls, they are too uncivilized, always so angry »


In this section I will try as often as I can to portray a particularly inspiring black woman.

They are sources of motivations, and wisdom and influenced my life in so many levels. They taught me to love myself, to be passionate and to believe in me and in my dreams. They are the reason I’m feeling the courage to finally go public with this blog and share my writings to the world, in english, even if it is not my native language.

From Angela Davis, to Maya Angelou or Shonda Rhymes, all these women have something in common. They contribute to change the perception on black women and they are models and sources of inspiration for every young black girl.

I want to celebrate these women who are educated, gifted, wise, strong, resilient and always uplifting.

I want to be a voice for the longtime misread story of black women’s greatness.

To go further : here are 3 books on the subject I find the interesting or I just liked.
  1. Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America by Charisse Jones & Kumea Shorter Gooden
  2. Americanah by Chimamanda N’Gozi
  3. And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

I want to know your  opinion : What is Black Girl Magic for you? What are the most inspirational persons in your life? Who do you think I should portray? Leave a comment with your answers below.

© 2016 The Return to Salone