I was in 7th grade when I was first exposed to Dr. Angelou’s work. For most students, the first (and possibly only) work they read by her is I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

The first work I read by her was a poem: Phenomenal Woman.

This work came to me in a time where most teenagers are reaching that awkward stage. You aspire to look, and be the same as your peers, and when you can’t realize that aspiration, it becomes about you as opposed to society’s backwards thinking. You don’t know you can be a rebel.

We were preparing for the Black History Month program at school, and they wanted people to write and perform poems. I had a couple of pieces written, but my drama teacher brought me a new poem. I looked it over. I thought to myself, man, this is so good! But this is really long, can I do this? Do I even believe myself to be a phenomenal woman? What does that even mean?

My teacher sensed the skepticism. “You can do this. If I didn’t trust you to do this, I wouldn’t have brought it to you. Let the words marinate, and we’ll start practice tomorrow after lunch.”

I nodded, and took it home to read again.

Here it is, for those who haven’t read it:

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
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


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
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
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
When my mom came home from work that night and saw what I was reading, she was excited. She asked if I would be performing it. I nodded, trying to convince myself I could do it. Look at that poem, I thought. How can I be any of those things? I’m fat, I have bad skin, I have crooked teeth. Nothing about me is phenomenal, unless you’re describing “ugly”. But my teacher trusted me with this, so I will do it.
“You sure?” my mom asked? I nodded again, “Yes, I am. I can do it.”
I practiced and practiced that poem. I had the cadence down pat. I don’t know if I started to believe it or not, but I thought that hey, maybe this could be me. Maybe this could apply to me in certain cases. And that was enough to keep me going.
The day of the program, we had some great performances. The students were pretty bored in the stands, but happy to be free of class for a couple of hours.
Then it was my turn.
I hate public speaking. I hate it so much, because I get stage fright like you wouldn’t believe. And here I am, 12 years old, staring at the entire school in the bleachers. And they’re staring back. I felt my hand shake a bit on my way to the podium. “You don’t have to come from behind the podium if you don’t want,” my teacher whispered in my ear. I nodded, petrified. But when I got to the podium, I put my notes on top, and came around the front.
And I performed. This wasn’t just reciting. This was a performance, hand movements, gestures, slowly walking back and forth before the students.
I never practiced that. It just came. I don’t know if it was nerves or Dr. Angelou’s spirit covering me in that moment, but I felt like every word was being absorbed into my soul. Every move kept these students engaged, and by the time I finished, I had a standing ovation. My drama teacher was ecstatic. My other teachers were in shock.
So was I.
I’d always loved the written word in any form, but it was then that I understood how much it could touch others. And I knew that not only did I want to be a lawyer, I wanted to write as well. I wanted to do spoken word, and touch people with my writing as Dr. Angelou’s writing has touched me.
Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
Thank you, Dr. Maya Angelou, for being a rainbow in mine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s