November’s Influential Woman Writer

“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.

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to regularly post pieces highlighting influential women authors in history. I feel very strongly about sharing these stories with you because in the end, we as women are the key to our own advancement. We have the ability to reshape the status quo. It’s my belief that by letting ourselves be inspired by the people who built the foundation that raised us out of the trenches as a gender we will continue to strive for equality. These aren’t meant to be biographical posts; if you wish to read the person’s short life description you can refer to Wikipedia. My goal is simply to share these writers with you and hope that it peaks your interest enough to read their work.

The first woman I’ve decided to feature was an author, civil rights activist and poet who won numerous awards for her nonfiction work. She recited words of diversity and equality in her poem On the Pulse of Morning at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration and her 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. She was a brilliant writer and an inspirational human being. If you haven’t already guessed it, today’s piece is about the legendary Maya Angelou.

Although she had many talents in the performing arts – dance and drama to list a few – it is in writing that Angelou focused most on by the end of the 1950s. After returning from a tour in Europe, a friend urged Angelou to write about her life experiences – mainly her tumultuous childhood and young adult life. This important piece of work became her enormously successful memoir and an immediate bestseller. Angelou continued to break new ground when she wrote the drama Georgia, Georgia. This screenplay became the first by an African-American woman to be produced. While living in Cairo, Egypt, she served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. In Ghana, she served as an instructor and assistant administrator at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama, worked as feature editor for the African Review and wrote for The Ghanaian Times and the Ghanaian Broadcasting Company. While abroad, she read and studied voraciously, learning French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and Fanti. It is in this period that she met the American leader Malcolm X, whom she planned to help with his Organization of African American Unity, however he was assassinated before this was made possible. Angelou remained active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. until his assassination.

Angelou was invited by successive Presidents of the United States to serve in various capacities; President Ford appointed her to the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, President Carter invited her to serve on the Presidential Commission for the International Year of the Woman and President Clinton requested that she compose a poem to read at his inauguration.

I could go on and on about Maya Angelou’s accolades however I’ve chosen to include one of her poems instead and let her work speak for itself.

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

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 walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

 

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

 

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Maya Angelou

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“Kindly forgo name, list sex only.” – Your Employer

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We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly.” – Margaret Atwood

Too often in our day and age, we take our freedom of self for granted. As a woman in 2015, I can own a bank account. I can sign a legal document. I can own property – I can inherit it even. I can be a physician or a lawyer or a marine. I can vote. I can even stand for election if I so choose. And why the hell not? I’m a person after all.

However these seemingly logical freedoms were not always possible for women. I know that you know this but rare are the moments when you actually think about it though, right? I voted for the first time this year. I did it with a sense of duty as a Canadian citizen, but not once did it cross my mind that I should vote simply because I am a woman and that there was a time I could not. The reality is that until 1920, women in our great land weren’t even recognized as “persons” in the eyes of the law much less vote. Yet there I was, submitting my electoral choice.

Obviously, these rights didn’t forge themselves. It took an army of strong willed woman throughout the years to make change happen – several of whom were writers. But in spite of all this advancement, I can’t help but feel that somewhere along the line our progress stalled. We accepted the status quo even if it hadn’t quite reached full equality status and the women’s rights movement became somewhat of an unfinished business. I can’t be the only person out there that sees shame in women making only 81% of the medians of our male counterparts. I have a daughter. I’d like her to see the day when an employee’s wages aren’t determined by whether or not they have a penis.

In sociology, we learn that education has the power to initiate social change. So for my own personal education, and hopefully for yours as well, every now and then I will post a piece featuring an influential woman writer who has made a difference. I hope they inspire you to truly recognize your worth as a woman (or if you are a man, the worth of the women around you) and to stop accepting a world where the combination of two X chromosomes makes you inferior.

Keep an eye out for this week’s post about a person (because legally today, she would be granted that title) who envisioned a future when women could pursue virtually any career opportunity they desired and did what she could in order to make that happen.