Female American Poets: Archival Connections

April 16, 2019

By Rachel Kaufman

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

“Out of such chaos, of such contradiction / We learn that we are neither devils nor divines”

            — “A Brave and Startling Truth”

“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.”

— “Phenomenal Woman”

 
 
 

Maya Angelou was an American poet, autobiographer, and activist. Alongside her writing career, Angelou was a singer, dancer, actress, and Hollywood’s first female black director. As an activist, she worked for Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and across her lifetime, she was awarded over 50 honorary degrees, including the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Angelou joined the Harlem Writers Guild in the 1950s.

Researchers may be interested in Angelou’s explorations of sound, memory, and sexuality in her poetry and prose. Angelou’s texts, performances, and collaborations trace and mark historical moments and movements, and her words investigate the history of Black oppression, activism, and power in America. The Beinecke holds many uncorrected first proofs of Angelou’s books, and researchers may use these texts to investigate the processes of book-making and publishing.

Books of Prose and Poetry

Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ’fore I Diiie, Maya Angelou, 1971

JWJ Zan An43 971J http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/1164650

  • Angelou’s first collection of poetry

  • “When you come to me, unbidden, / Beckoning me / To long-ago rooms, / Where memories lie. // Offering me, as to a child, an attic, / Gatherings of days too few. / Baubles of stolen kisses. / Trinkets of borrowed loves. / Trunks of secret words, // I CRY.” — “When You Come to Me”

Oh Pray / My Wings / are Gonna / Fit Me Well, Maya Angelou, 1975

JWJ Zan An43 +975Pa http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/1178369

  • Angelou’s second collection of poetry, an uncorrected first proof

  • “Other acquainted years / sidle / with modest / decorum / across the scrim of toughened / tears and to a stage / planked with laughter boards / and waxed with rueful loss” — “On Reaching Forty”

  • “Your skin like dawn / Mine like dusk. // One paints the beginning / of a certain end. // The other, the end of a / sure beginning.” — “Passing Time”

And Still I Rise, Maya Angelou, 1978

JWJ Zan An43 978A http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/34473

  • Angelou’s third collection of poetry

  • “There is a deep brooding / in Arkansas. / Old crimes like moss pend / from poplar trees. / The sullen earth / is much too / red for comfort.” — “My Arkansas”

  • “Her lips are ridged and / fleshy. Purpled night birds / snuggled to rest. / The mouth seamed, voiceless, / Sounds do not lift beyond / those reddened walls. // She came too late and lonely / to this place.” — “The Singer Will Not Sing”

Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? Maya Angelou, 1983

JWJ Zan An43 983S http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/588667

  • “Bitterness thick on / A rankling tongue, / A psalm to love that’s / Left unsung, // Rivers heading north / But ending South, / Funeral music / In a going-home mouth” — “A Good Woman Feeling Bad”

I Shall Not Be Moved, Maya Angelou, 1990

JWJ Zan An43 990J http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/3056770

  • “When old folks laugh, they consider the promise / of dear painless death, and generously / forgive life for happening / to them.” - “Old Folks Laugh”

A Brave and Startling Truth, Maya Angelou, 1995

JWJ Zan An43 995B http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/3901421

  • Read by Angelou at the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the UN San Francisco, June 26, 1995

  • “Out of such chaos, of such contradiction / We learn that we are neither devils nor divines”

Phenomenal Woman / Four Poems Celebrating Women, Maya Angelou, 1994

JWJ Zan An43 994P http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/3780800

  • A reprinting of the poet’s four most remembered and acclaimed poems: Phenomenal Woman, Still I Rise, Weekend Glory, and Our Grandmothers

  • “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.” — “Phenomenal Woman”

  • “My life ain’t heaven / but it sure ain’t hell. / I’m not on top / but I call it swell / if I’m able to work / and get paid right / and have the luck to be Black / on a Saturday night.” — “Weekend Glory”

  • “She lay, skin down on the moist dirt, / the canebrake rustling / with the whispers of leaves, and / loud longing of hounds and / the ransack of hunters crackling the near branches. // She muttered, lifting her head a nod toward freedom, / I shall not, I shall not be moved.” — “Our Grandmothers”

Angelou also wrote a multi-volume autobiography, beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and ending with Mom & Me & Mom.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou, 1969

JWJ Zan An43 970J http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/1164649

  • Angelou dedicated this first autobiography to her son, “Guy Johnson, and all the strong black birds of promise who defy the odds and gods and sing their songs”

  • The text begins: “‘What you looking at me for? I didn’t come to stay…’ I hadn’t so much forgot as I couldn’t bring myself to remember. Other things were more important…. ‘What you looking at me for? I didn’t come to stay…’ The children’s section of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church was wiggling and giggling over my well-known forgetfulness.”

Gather Together in My Name, Maya Angelou, 1974

JWJ Zan An43 974Ga http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/1164661

  • An uncorrected first proof, the second volume in the series begins with the birth of Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson.

Singin’ and swingin’ and gettin’ merry like Christmas, Maya Angelou, 1976

JWJ Zan An43 976Sa http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/1164654

  • An uncorrected first proof

The Heart of a Woman, Maya Angelou, 1981

JWJ Zan An43 981H http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/585415

  • The fourth volume of her autobiography, the text begins with Angelou leaving California with her son, Guy, for NYC: “The old ark’s a-moverin’, a-moverin’, a-moverin’, the ole ark’s a-moverin’ along….that ancient spiritual could have been the theme song of the United States in 1957.” In New York, she joins the city’s community of black artists and writers.

All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, Maya Angelou, 1986

JWJ Zan An43 986Ab http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/4806130

  • Signed first edition with a special introduction by Angelou. She writes: “Never belonging, never accepted as really belonging anyplace, whetted my appetite inordinately for a home. For a reader to understand why I have lived this life and written this book, I must add one more statement to the above biographical sketch. Every Black in the United States has an uneasy sense of dislocation. The dislocated might claim forefathers who fought American wars in the eighteenth century or worked southern lands in the nineteenth century, yet full belonging has remained achingly beyond our reach.” and “I learned that there is in all human beings a longing for a romantic and unattainable home, yet we are capable of creating a fictional condition which can sometimes pass as home.”

  • The fifth volume in the series, this autobiography begins after Angelou and her son’s two year stay in Cairo: “The breezes of the West African night were intimate and shy, licking the hair, sweeping through cotton dresses with unseemly intimacy, then disappearing into the utter blackness.”

Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now, Maya Angelou, 1993

JWJ Zan An43 993W http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/3569067

  • Dedicated to Oprah Winfrey “with immeasurable love”

  • The ‘wisdom book’ of essays begins: “In my young years I took pride in the fact that luck was called a lady. In fact, there were so few public acknowledgements of the female presence that I felt personally honored whenever nature and large ships were referred to as feminine. But as I matured, I began to resent being considered a sister to a changeling as fickle as luck, as aloof as an ocean, and as frivolous as nature.”

 

Broadsides

 

Angelou was also a singer, dancer, actress, and director. She often performed her poetry.

Herbie Hancock, Taj Mahal, Malo and Maya Angelou in concert for Angela, 1972  

BrSides Double Folio 2012 49 http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/10558375

  • A concert for Angela Davis, Feb 28, 1972

On the pulse of morning / by Maya Angelou, 1993

BrSides Folio 2011 17 http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/9697015

  • “Joy! Maya Angelou 6/93” handwritten autograph in pen

  • Read by Angelou at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, January 20, 1993

 

Collaborations

Now Sheba Sings the Song, Maya Angelou with art by Tom Feelings, 1987

JWJ Zan An43 +987N http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/715853

  • Eighty-four portraits of “extraordinary ordinary” Black women with words by Angelou

  • “From the columns of my thighs / I take the strength to hold the world aloft / Standing, too often, with a cloud of loneliness / Forming halos for my head.”

  • “My songs wreathe the people in banners / Of hope, of wisdom and some just plain laughing out loud”

I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America, Brian Lanker with a foreword by Maya Angelou, 1989

WIPA +1247 http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/4499398

  • Includes photos of and interviews with Rosa Parks, Toni Morrison, Gwendolyn Brooks, Leontyne Price, Margaret Walker, and others. Filled with stories and wisdom about what it means to be an artist, a leader, a writer, a woman, a Black woman.

  • “We are able to enter the photographs and enter into the spirit of these women and rejoice in their courage and nearness. / Precious jewels all. Thanks to their persistence, art, sublime laughter and love we may all yet survive our grotesque history.”

Pressbook for “Georgia, Georgia,” screenplay by Maya Angelou, from Cinerama Releasing, 1972

2014 Folio 487 http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/12183707

  • The first American screenplay written by a Black woman

  • Announcement Story: “The film is the first to present a penetrating and powerful story that reveals the soul of a black woman.”

  • The screenplay explores themes of intermarriage, fame, the Black Power Movement, love, and trust.

My Painted House / My Friendly Chicken / and Me, Maya Angelou, photographs by Margaret Courtney-Clarke, 1994

JWJ Zan An43 +994M http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/7717850

Women on War / Essential Voices for the Nuclear Age from a Brilliant International Assembly, edited by Daniela Gioseffi

Zab G439 988W http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/13000861

  • 1988 with editor’s signature

  • includes Gwendolyn Brooks, Hannah Arendt, Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Isabel Allende, Emily Dickinson, Anne Frank, Leslie Marmon Silko, and many more women from around the world

  • “Thus she had lain / sugar cane sweet / desert her hair / golden her feet / mountains her breasts / two Niles her tears / Thus she has lain / Black through the years.” — “Africa” by Angelou

Reaping / Poems, cries, chants, tributes, songs, for the farmworkers! ed. Mary R. Rudge, 1977

Zc95 R231 1977 http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/13311027

  • includes Angelou, Cesar Chavez, Denise Levertov, and others

  • “Alone, all alone / Nobody, but nobody / Can make it out here alone.” —“Alone” by Angelou