Maya Angelou: Teacher, Mentor and Inspiration

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It was a cold, rainy day and I was sitting in a classroom, waiting to start an A Level English lesson. I was feeling particularly bored – I hadn’t slept well the night before and I had strongly objected that morning at having to get out of bed – the prospect of studying two hours of Shakespeare was distinctly unnappealing. However, my tutor had decided that we were going to do something a little different and promptly handed me an A4 sheet of paper that contained two long paragraphs. The next two hours turned out to be  some of the most interesting analysis sessions that I had ever participated in – the words were so inspiring and beautifully written that I made a note of the book that the text was taken from so that I could purchase it on my way home.

The book was ‘I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou.

Over the next few months I bought and read everything that I could possibly find that was associated with her. I read all seven books in her memoirs, collections of her poetry and articles and essays that she had written. Growing up as a white girl in a working class town in the north of England couldn’t have been more different from her own life experiences, but her words not only enthralled me, they taught me about life, love and the power of knowledge.

Her early life was particularly difficult, having survived childhood in the segregated deep south, rape, teenage pregnancy and prostitution. During her 86 years Maya was a fry-cook, a dancer, cast member in Porgy and Bess, co-ordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, journalist, civil rights activist, poet, author, lecturer and teacher. She transformed every trial and every setback into strength, into courage and into passion. Mediocrity was not the way in which she lived.


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

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.

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.

In all my work, I try to say – ‘You may be given a load of sour lemons, why not try to make a dozen lemon meringue pies?

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Nothing will work unless you do.

Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.

Her life and her works have helped me through some of toughest times in life. She gave me hope, she motivated and she has influenced me. Her words made me want to be a better person.

Our country needs us all right now to stand up and be counted. We need to try to be great citizens. We are necessary in this country, and we need to give something — that is to say, go to a local hospital, go to the children’s ward and offer to the nurse in charge an hour twice a month that you can give them reading children’s stories or poetry,” she said. “And go to an old folks’ home and read the newspaper to somebody. Go to your church or your synagogue or your mosque, and say, ‘I’d like to be of service. I have one hour twice a month. You’ll be surprised at how much better you will feel, and good done anywhere is good done everywhere.

Today, the world lost a mother, a teacher and a friend. Rest In Peace Maya – safe journey.

29 thoughts on “Maya Angelou: Teacher, Mentor and Inspiration

  1. I didn’t even know we lost her. I haven’t even turned on the news yet today. She was A truly inspiring woman.

  2. I was very fortunate to hear her speak once, and what struck me was her wry sense of humor, which she managed to keep even when talking on serious subjects. She was a gift to us.

  3. I read that shortly after she testified against the man who raped her, he was murdered. She was only 8. The rapist was her mother’s boyfriend. She felt it was her fault that he was killed and didn’t speak for 5 years after that. What a woman!

  4. This was wonderful, and I’m so glad you found her. I think many authors (though of course Maya was much more than that) will never know how many lives they changed.

  5. Suzie, this is as heartfelt as anything you’ve ever written. You learned well from a true master and your post today will spread the word about a remarkable woman who was a gift to us all. I hope everyone will read at least one of her books. They will transform you.

  6. She really lived by her “motto” I can be changed by what has happened to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it. Her words were and will forever be inspirational and thought provoking, her inspirational sayings if people pay attention and absorb can make people change their mindset(s) about how they feel about themselves and their lives.

  7. I don’t think she’d see it as us losing someone, but rather as us having another reason to pay attention to what we do have with us because forever is only as long as you let it be.

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