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Maya Angelou Quotes

Poet, Autobiographer, Activist


Dr. Maya Angelou speaks on stage during the 34th Annual AWRT Gracie Awards Gala at The New York Marriott Marquis on June 3, 2009 in New York City.

Dr. Maya Angelou speaks on stage during the 34th Annual AWRT Gracie Awards Gala at The New York Marriott Marquis on June 3, 2009 in New York City.

Jemal Countess/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Maya Angelou - 2003

Maya Angelou - 2003

Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown

(April 4, 1928 - May 28, 2014)
American writer, Maya Angelou survived a tough childhood and early adulthood to become a singer, actress, activist, and writer. In 1993, she came to much wider attention when she recited a poem of her own composition at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton.

Selected Maya Angelou Quotations

• How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!

• It is this belief in a power larger than myself and other than myself which allows me to venture into the unknown and even the unknowable.

• A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

• In all my work, in the movies I write, the lyrics, the poetry, the prose, the essays, I am saying that we may encounter many defeats -- maybe it's imperative that we encounter the defeats -- but we are much stronger than we appear to be, and maybe much better than we allow ourselves to be.

• Give birth again / To the Dream

• In all my work, what I try to say is that as human beings we are more alike than we are unalike.

• The needs of society determine its ethics.

• One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.

• I speak to the black experience, but I am always talking about the human condition -- about what we can endure, dream, fail at, and still survive.

• I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.

• The honorary duty of a human being is to love.

• Living a life is like constructing a building: if you start wrong, you'll end wrong.

• History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

• Love is that condition in the human spirit so profound that it allows me to survive, and better than that, to thrive with passion, compassion, and style.

• There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.

• The main thing in one's own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry.

• Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns all clean.

• Self-pity in its early stages is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable.

• If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.

• Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

• We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders.

• Human beings are more alike than unalike, and what is true anywhere is true everywhere, yet I encourage travel to as many destinations as possible for the sake of education as well as pleasure.

• Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told: "I'm with you kid. Let's go."

• If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain.

• Effective action is always unjust.

• Nothing will work unless you do.

• You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.

• Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it.

• If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. - from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

• The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors, and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.

• The white American man makes the white American woman maybe not superfluous but just a little kind of decoration. Not really important to turning around the wheels of the state. Well the black American woman has never been able to feel that way. No black American man at any time in our history in the United States has been able to feel that he didn't need that black woman right against him, shoulder to shoulder -- in that cotton field, on the auction block, in the ghetto, wherever.

• Talent is like electricity. We don't understand electricity. We use it. You can plug into it and light up a lamp, keep a heart pump going, light a cathedral, or you can electrocute a person with it.

• Some critics will write 'Maya Angelou is a natural writer' - which is right after being a natural heart surgeon.

• Lyrical poetry is out for the time being, and something that is called rap or hip-hop is in. It is still poetry, and we can't live without it. We need language to tell us who we are, how we feel, what we're capable of -- to explain the pains and glory of our existence.

• Being a woman is hard work.

• I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass.

• Nature has no mercy at all. Nature says, "I'm going to snow. If you have on a bikini and no snowshoes, that's tough. I am going to snow anyway."

• Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.

• There's a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure truth.

• The most called-upon prerequisite of a friend is an accessible ear.

• If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don't be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning "Good morning" at total strangers.

• I'm a spring leaf trembling in anticipation.

• Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.

• The quality of strength lined with tenderness is an unbeatable combination, as are intelligence and necessity when unblunted by formal education.

• Achievement brings its own anticlimax.

• Once I got into it I realized I was following a tradition established by Frederick Douglass -- the slave narrative -- speaking in the first-person singular talking about the first-person plural, always saying "I" meaning "we." And what a responsibility.

• Maya Angelou's autobiography borrows the first line of this poem by Harlem Renaissance poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar, "Sympathy":

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core.

Related Resources for Maya Angelou

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About These Quotes

Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.

Citation information:
Jone Johnson Lewis. "Maya Angelou Quotes." About Women's History. URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/qu_maya_angelou.htm . Date accessed: (today). (More on how to cite online sources including this page)

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