A post for Maya Angelou

I woke up this morning to the sad news that American icon Maya Angelou has passed at the age of 86 from medical complications.

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Pulled from USA Today:

“Angelou defied simple labels. She was a walking list of careers and passions: in addition to her books, she was an actress, director, playwright, composer, singer and dancer. And if that wasn’t enough, she once worked as a madam in a brothel and as the first female and first black street car conductor in San Francisco.

She was best known for the first of her six memoirs, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings(1970), still widely read in schools. She described being raped at 7 and becoming an unwed mother at 17. (Her son, Guy Johnson, a poet and novelist, is her only immediate survivor.)

Her formal education ended in high school. But she was awarded more than 30 honorary degrees from colleges. She insisted on being called “Dr. Angelou.””

There have been thousands upon thousands of remembrances already written for her this morning, so rather than repeating all the glowing (and well deserved) praise  floating around the internet I thought it’d be nice to just share one of her poems.

Here’s one of my favorite all-time literary works from any author of any genre.

“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

Rest in peace Dr. Angelou. Your influence will reverberate throughout civilization for centuries.

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Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a lifelong Portlander who works with mentally ill and marginalized adults at Amistad Inc.. He has worked on a lobster boat, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.