A tribute to Maya Angelou

A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. ~ Maya Angelou

For years I thought Maya Angelou was just an author on a GCSE reading list. Translation: boring. I remember seeing my school friend clutching a copy of I know why the caged bird sings. But I didn’t know the power she had in her hands, as it had been decided that my English class would read a different text.

I didn’t get introduced to the great Maya until 10 years later at drama school. We each had to pick a poem to perform, and my classmate picked 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
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I remember thinking – wow. Just wow. But it wasn’t until a few years later when I realised I wasn’t going to be an actress that Maya’s work truly influenced my life. For six months, I rented a tiny bedsit in Stockwell, as it was all I could afford at the time. The one beacon of light for me was the library at the end of the road. And during those months, I read every single thing she had written. I devoured it all, and it gave me so much hope and confidence, that to this day, I will never forget the impact Maya Angelou’s work had on my life.

It’s two years since she died, and like the true artist she was her work lives on and continues to touch lives. All I can say is: thank you.

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