Maya Angelou: “Still I Rise”

As the year draws to a close and the dark deepens, I reflect on the difficult election season and look for glimmers of light. Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” – published in 1978 as part of Angelou’s poetry collection, And Still I Rise – speaks to me as a powerful antidote to despair.

Although she specifically speaks from and to the experience of being African American, acknowledging the “huts of history’s shame,” her poem also reaches out to anyone who has struggled, who has despaired of finding the way forward. “You may trod me in the very dirt,” she writes, “[b]ut still, like dust, I’ll rise.” I find her words to be a tonic, an inspiration, a beacon for the journey ahead.

Maya Angelou also wrote memoirs, including her most famous work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first in a series of seven books that tell the story of her life. I featured I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings last year in honor of Banned Books Week. You can learn more about Angelou’s life and writing by revisiting that previous StoryWeb post.

This winter, a feature-length documentary film, titled Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, will be shown on PBS’s American Masters Series. At the time of her death in May 2014, Angelou was participating in the making of the film. You can view a trailer for the film at the PBS website.

Inspired by Angelou’s iconic poem, musician Ben Harper set the poem to music (with some slight adaptations to the lines) and recorded it as “I’ll Rise.” You can learn more about the connection between Angelou’s poem and Harper’s song in a post from Waylon Lewis, editor and publisher of the Boulder-based Elephant Journal.

Angelou’s poem also provides the title to a four-hour PBS series and companion book from Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., professor at Harvard University. Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise is available as a DVD and as a book. Clearly, Angelou’s words ring true to many African Americans.

Are you weary and discouraged? Listen to Maya Angelou read “Still I Rise” – or listen to Ben Harper sing “I’ll Rise.” I promise you’ll be uplifted. We’ll rise!

Watch and Listen:Watch as Maya Angelou talks about and reads “Still I Rise.” Listen to Ben Harper sing “I’ll Rise,” which sets Angelou’s slightly adapted poem to music. You can follow along with the original poem here.