A Song Flung Up to Heaven: Goodbye to Maya Angelou

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


Renowned poet and civil rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou was found dead this morning. The award winning author was 86 years old and had apparently been in ill health for some time now.

She’d written numerous plays, film scripts, poetry collections and autobiographies as well as receiving multiple awards and honorary doctorates. She was also a strong-willed civil rights activist and we have lost an incredible woman today. One of my favourite books of hers is called Halleujah! The Welcome Table, a collection of anecdotes and family recipes and it shows how and why despite a traumatic childhood, featuring abuse and racial discrimination, she absorbed the unshakable faith and values of community, family, and a deep love of the arts.

She was elective mute for years following sexual abuse and the subsequent death of that abuser. She had become scared, believing, as she said, “I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone…”. It was during those years discovered her passion for reading and the written word. It was this love that would cause her to become the writer known as “the black woman’s poet laureate”.

In 1981 she became the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where she lived until her death. She called herself “a teacher who writes”. Angelou taught a variety of subjects including philosophy, ethics, theology, science, theater, and writing, all of which reflected her interests and passions.
Throughout her life she was not only a writer, she was also a dancer, a fry cook, prostitute, mother, singer, producer, professor and lecturer. She worked closely with Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. and in 1993 become the first poet to recite at a presidential inauguration since Robert Frost did in 1961.

She was an inspiration to many, as an author, feminist, teacher, and phenomenal woman. A song has been flung up to Heaven today.

Since I first came across her writing she has been one of my favourite poets. Her words have changed so many lives and touched so many people. And she will be deeply missed. And I will finish this leaving you with my favourite of her poems.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

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, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou


A Woman’s Fear

I was in the car with my brother the other day. It was probably about midnight, he was giving me a lift so I could make the last train to Bristol airport for a disgustingly early flight. Because the flight was so heinously early I had to sleep in the airport, I was totally okay with the idea of it but mam and my brother were a little nervous.  Sitting in the car my brother he told me something that made me think. My brother is eighteen years older than I am and he was telling me that when I’d been quite young he was walking home in dark, through a park in Dublin and he realised that his sister would probably never be able to walk with the same ease as him, and he said he’d never wanted me or our younger sister to be afraid of doing things, to be scared.

But here’s the thing, I am afraid, there are things I don’t do, I didn’t walk anyway after eleven when I moved out, I’m nervous on my own in towns especially after dark. There have been times when I have seen someone who looks like they might be in trouble, drunk, hurt, people who might need help, and I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been to scared to go and ask if I can do something, to give them human contact, to help.

Like it or not, I’ve grown up in a culture of fear, a culture that says “Don’t walk down that alley, just in case.”, says “You can’t go travelling abroad on your own, not as a young woman alone.”, “Don’t talk to strangers.”, “Anyone could be a thief/rapist/murderer.”.

A culture that at the base of everything is telling me “You are a woman, you are vulnerable, you cannot trust anyone and if anything happens, it’s your fault”.

I Am Rising

I’d never heard of the V-Day Movement until last summer when I found a copy of the Vagina Monologues while on a college trip. I’d heard of them and I’d heard of Eve Ensler, but madly enough for the circles I moved in I had never heard of V-Day.

This year is the 15th V-Day held, a day to take the messages of love given on Valentine’s day and turn them to messages of love and support for any survivors or rape, violence or abuse. But this year there was a very particular call, a call for 1 Billion Rising.

The statistics say that 1 Billion women in the world are survivors of abuse, about 1 in 3 women abused, and the call went out for 1 billion people around the world to leave what they were doing, forget how they looked and rise together in a revolution of dancing.

The website says


A global strike
An invitation to dance
A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends
An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers
A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given
A new time and a new way of being.”

And today I joined a tiny group of women, men and children in the town where I live and we danced, through the streets and in the square. We danced and sang and we rose, with all the other people who joined us, rising around the world.

It’s a start, it’s a beginning, it’s a change, and we will all rise.

“Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.” – Maya Angelou