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Feb 12, 2021
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Maya Angelou Quotes

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  • When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

  • My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

  • Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.

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

  • I have great respect for the past. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going. I have respect for the past, but I’m a person of the moment. I’m here, and I do my best to be completely centered at the place I’m at, then I go forward to the next place.

  • If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.

  • You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.

  • Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.

  • There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

  • Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.

  • Nothing will work unless you do.

  • The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.

  • History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

  • We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.

  • Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.

  • If you have only one smile in you give it to the people you love.

  • The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

  • The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are.

  • There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.

  • Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.

  • It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.

  • One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.

  • Love is like a virus. It can happen to anybody at any time.

  • I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.

  • Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.

  • Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.

  • 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.

  • I know that when I pray, something wonderful happens. Not just to the person or persons for whom I’m praying, but also something wonderful happens to me. I’m grateful that I’m heard.

  • All great achievements require time.

  • A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.

  • My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.

  • I have a son, who is my heart. A wonderful young man, daring and loving and strong and kind.

  • I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.

  • It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.

  • All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.

  • Whatever you want to do, if you want to be great at it, you have to love it and be able to make sacrifices for it.

  • You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.

  • It is impossible to struggle for civil rights, equal rights for blacks, without including whites. Because equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us has it. That is the truth of it.

  • How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!

  • My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.

  • If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.

  • Won’t it be wonderful when black history and native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.

  • I got my own back.

  • There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.

  • I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.

  • I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.

  • If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.

  • I am grateful to be a woman. I must have done something great in another life.

  • Life loves the liver of it.

  • We are braver and wiser because they existed, those strong women and strong men… We are who we are because they were who they were. It’s wise to know where you come from, who called your name.

  • I believe that every person is born with talent.

  • The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you. May not call God the same name you call God – if they call God at all. I may not dance your dances or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody. That’s what I think.

  • Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told: ‘I’m with you kid. Let’s go.’

  • I did work in a strip club, but I didn’t strip. I danced, and I became very popular.

  • What is a fear of living? It’s being preeminently afraid of dying. It is not doing what you came here to do, out of timidity and spinelessness. The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself – for the time you take up and the space you occupy. If you don’t know what you’re here to do, then just do some good.

  • You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lines. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.

  • I’m just someone who likes cooking and for whom sharing food is a form of expression.

  • I respect myself and insist upon it from everybody. And because I do it, I then respect everybody, too.

  • I work very hard, and I play very hard. I’m grateful for life. And I live it – I believe life loves the liver of it. I live it.

  • I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.

  • The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind.

  • The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.

  • Find a beautiful piece of art. If you fall in love with Van Gogh or Matisse or John Oliver Killens, or if you fall love with the music of Coltrane, the music of Aretha Franklin, or the music of Chopin – find some beautiful art and admire it, and realize that that was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less.

  • There is a very fine line between loving life and being greedy for it.

  • For Africa to me… is more than a glamorous fact. It is a historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place.

  • At 50, I began to know who I was. It was like waking up to myself.

  • Eating is so intimate. It’s very sensual. When you invite someone to sit at your table and you want to cook for them, you’re inviting a person into your life.

  • In the flush of love’s light, we dare be brave. And suddenly we see that love costs all we are, and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free.

  • We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay – and rise!

  • We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.

  • The best comfort food will always be greens, cornbread, and fried chicken.

  • Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.

  • The love of the family, the love of one person can heal. It heals the scars left by a larger society. A massive, powerful society.

  • If we don’t plant the right things, we will reap the wrong things. It goes without saying. And you don’t have to be, you know, a brilliant biochemist and you don’t have to have an IQ of 150. Just common sense tells you to be kind, ninny, fool. Be kind.

  • I know that I’m not the easiest person to live with. The challenge I put on myself is so great that the person I live with feels himself challenged. I bring a lot to bear, and I don’t know how not to.

  • How wonderful it is to be an American. We have known the best of times and the worst of times.

  • A cynical young person is almost the saddest sight to see, because it means that he or she has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.

  • My life has been one great big joke, a dance that’s walked a song that’s spoke, I laugh so hard I almost choke when I think about myself.

  • Easy reading is damn hard writing. But if it’s right, it’s easy. It’s the other way round, too. If it’s slovenly written, then it’s hard to read. It doesn’t give the reader what the careful writer can give the reader.

  • Courage – you develop courage by doing small things like just as if you wouldn’t want to pick up a 100-pound weight without preparing yourself.

  • While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.

  • The hope, the hope that lives in the breast of the black American, is just so tremendous that it overwhelms me sometimes.

  • At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.

  • We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders.

  • The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerance. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors, and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.

  • Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.

  • I would be a liar, a hypocrite, or a fool – and I’m not any of those – to say that I don’t write for the reader. I do. But for the reader who hears, who really will work at it, going behind what I seem to say. So I write for myself and that reader who will pay the dues.

  • Politicians must set their aims for the high ground and according to our various leanings, Democratic, Republican, Independent, we will follow. Politicians must be told if they continue to sink into the mud of obscenity, they will proceed alone.

  • In so many ways, segregation shaped me, and education liberated me.

  • During bad circumstances, which is the human inheritance, you must decide not to be reduced. You have your humanity, and you must not allow anything to reduce that. We are obliged to know we are global citizens. Disasters remind us we are world citizens, whether we like it or not.

  • Self-pity in its early stage is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable.

  • Everybody born comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory. We come from the Creator with creativity. I think that each one of us is born with creativity.

  • Don’t get older just to get wiser. If you get older, you will be wiser, I believe that – if you dare. But get older because it’s fun!

  • It is a no-fail, incontrovertible reality: If you get, give. If you learn, teach. You can’t do anything with that except do it.

  • All men are prepared to accomplish the incredible if their ideals are threatened.

  • Most people don’t grow up. It’s too damn difficult. What happens is most people get older. That’s the truth of it. They honor their credit cards, they find parking spaces, they marry, they have the nerve to have children, but they don’t grow up.

  • You have to develop ways so that you can take up for yourself, and then you take up for someone else. And so sooner or later, you have enough courage to really stand up for the human race and say, ‘I’m a representative.’

  • It’s very important to know the neighbor next door and the people down the street and the people in another race.

  • You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.’

  • I wrote some of the worst poetry west from the Mississippi River, but I wrote. And I finally sometimes got it right.

  • Most plain girls are virtuous because of the scarcity of opportunity to be otherwise.

  • I created myself. I have taught myself so much.

  • I’m grateful to intelligent people. That doesn’t mean educated. That doesn’t mean intellectual. I mean really intelligent. What black old people used to call ‘mother wit’ means intelligence that you had in your mother’s womb. That’s what you rely on. You know what’s right to do.

  • I would be stupid not to be on my own side. But I’m a human being, too. And I’m on the side of human beings, rather than on the side of crocodiles.

  • If you want what you’re saying heard, then take your time and say it so that the listener will actually hear it. You might save somebody’s life. Your own, first.

  • I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels.

  • Modesty is a learned affectation. And as soon as life slams the modest person against the wall, that modesty drops.

  • I know for sure that loves saves me and that it is here to save us all.

  • I’ve always written. There’s a journal which I kept from about 9 years old. The man who gave it to me lived across the street from the store and kept it when my grandmother’s papers were destroyed. I’d written some essays. I loved poetry, still do. But I really, really loved it then.

  • I refuse to allow any man-made differences to separate me from any other human beings.

  • I’m interested in women’s health because I’m a woman. I’d be a darn fool not to be on my own side.

  • If you’re a human being, you can attempt to do what other human beings have done. We don’t understand talent any more than we understand electricity.

  • 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?’

  • If we accept being talked to any kind of a way, then we are telling ourselves we are not quite worth the best. And if we have the effrontery to talk to anybody with less than courtesy, we tell ourselves and the world we are not very intelligent.

  • Fighting for one’s freedom, struggling towards being free, is like struggling to be a poet or a good Christian or a good Jew or a good Muslim or good Zen Buddhist. You work all day long and achieve some kind of level of success by nightfall, go to sleep and wake up the next morning with the job still to be done. So you start all over again.

  • Some critics will write ‘ is a natural writer’ – which is right after being a natural heart surgeon.

  • What humility does for one is it reminds us that there are people before me. I have already been paid for. And what I need to do is prepare myself so that I can pay for someone else who has yet to come but who may be here and needs me.

  • My greatest blessing has been the birth of my son. My next greatest blessing has been my ability to turn people into children of mine.

  • Elimination of illiteracy is as serious an issue to our history as the abolition of slavery.

  • Everyone has at least one story, and each of us is funny if we admit it. You have to admit you’re the funniest person you’ve ever heard of.

  • Don’t let the incidents which take place in life bring you low. And certainly don’t whine. You can be brought low, that’s OK, but don’t be reduced by them. Just say, ‘That’s life.’

  • Our stories come from our lives and from the playwright’s pen, the mind of the actor, the roles we create, the artistry of life itself and the quest for peace.

  • A black person grows up in this country – and in many places – knowing that racism will be as familiar as salt to the tongue. Also, it can be as dangerous as too much salt. I think that you must struggle for betterment for yourself and for everyone.

  • Independence is a heady draught, and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive and with each drink you want more.

  • I had given up some youth for knowledge, but my gain was more valuable than the loss.

  • Hold those things that tell your history and protect them. During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything? The ability to have somebody to tell your story to is so important. It says: ‘I was here. I may be sold tomorrow. But you know I was here.’

  • While the rest of the world has been improving technology, Ghana has been improving the quality of man’s humanity to man.

  • The most important thing I can tell you about aging is this: If you really feel that you want to have an off-the-shoulder blouse and some big beads and thong sandals and a dirndl skirt and a magnolia in your hair, do it. Even if you’re wrinkled.

  • When I write, I tend to twist my hair. Something for my small mind to do, I guess.

  • Those of us who submitted or surrendered our ideas and dreams and identities to the ‘leaders’ must take back our rights, our identities, our responsibilities.

  • We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans – because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings. That’s why we paint, that’s why we dare to love someone – because we have the impulse to explain who we are.

  • Bitterness is cancer – it eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure.

  • When I was 8 years old I became a mute and was a mute until I was 13, and I thought of my whole body as an ear, so I can go into a crowd and sit still and absorb all sound. That talent or ability has lasted and served me until today.

  • I love the song ‘I Hope You Dance’ by Lee Ann Womack. I was going to write that song, but someone beat me to it.

  • When a person is going through hell, and she encounters someone who went through hellish hell and survived, then she can say, ‘Mine is not so bad as all that. She came through, and so can I.’

  • I like chicken a lot because chicken is generous – that is to say, it’s obedient. It will do whatever you tell it to do.

  • Loving someone liberates the lover as well as the beloved. And that kind of love comes with age.

  • The first decade of the twentieth century was not a great time to be born black and poor and female in St. Louis, Missouri, but Vivian Baxter was born black and poor, to black and poor parents. Later she would grow up and be called beautiful. As a grown woman she would be known as the butter-colored lady with the blowback hair.

  • I’m always disappointed when people don’t live up to their potential. I know that a number of people look down on themselves and consequently on everybody who looks like them. But that, too, can change.

  • I admire people who dare to take the language, English, and understand it and understand the melody.

  • Whenever I want to laugh, I read a wonderful book, ‘Children’s Letters to God.’ You can open it anywhere. One I read recently said, ‘Dear God, thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy.’

  • As far as I knew white women were never lonely, except in books. White men adored them, Black men desired them and Black women worked for them.

  • I liked to write from the time I was about 12 or 13. I loved to read. And since I only spoke to my brother, I would write down my thoughts. And I think I wrote some of the worst poetry west of the Rockies. But by the time I was in my 20s, I found myself writing little essays and more poetry – writing at writing.

  • Nothing succeeds like success. Get a little success, and then just get a little more.

  • Effective action is always unjust.

  • I became the kind of parent my mother was to me.

  • The loss of young first love is so painful that it borders on the ludicrous.

  • I believe that each of us comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory.

  • In all my work, in the movies I write, the lyrics, the poetry, the prose, the essays, I am saying that we may encounter many defeats – maybe it’s imperative that we encounter the defeats – but we are much stronger than we appear to be and maybe much better than we allow ourselves to be. Human beings are more alike than unalike.

  • To take a few nouns, and a few pronouns, and adverbs and adjectives, and put them together, ball them up, and throw them against the wall to make them bounce. That’s what Norman Mailer did. That’s what James Baldwin did, and Joan Didion did, and that’s what I do – that’s what I mean to do.

  • I keep a hotel room in my town, although I have a large house. And I go there at about 5:30 in the morning, and I start working. And I don’t allow anybody to come in that room. I work on yellow pads and with ballpoint pens. I keep a Bible, a thesaurus, a dictionary, and a bottle of sherry. I stay there until midday.

  • The poetry you read has been written for you, each of you – black, white, Hispanic, man, woman, gay, straight.

  • Like a pianist runs her fingers over the keys, I’ll search my mind for what to say. Now, the poem may want you to write it. And then sometimes you see a situation and think, ‘I’d like to write about that.’ Those are two different ways of being approached by a poem, or approaching a poem.

  • Timidity makes a person modest. It makes him or her say, ‘I’m not worthy of being written up in the record of deeds in heaven or on earth.’ Timidity keeps people from their good. They are afraid to say, ‘Yes, I deserve it.’

  • When younger writers and poets, musicians and painters are weakened by a stemming of funds, they come to me saddened, not as full of dreams and excitement and ideas. I am then weakened and diminished, and made less rich.

  • I read the Bible to myself; I’ll take any translation, any edition, and read it aloud, just to hear the language, hear the rhythm, and remind myself how beautiful English is.

  • Human beings love poetry. They don’t even know it sometimes… whether they’re the songs of Bono, or the songs of Justin Bieber… they’re listening to poetry.

  • My grandmother took me to church on Sunday all day long, every Sunday into the night. Then Monday evening was the missionary meeting. Tuesday evening was usher board meeting. Wednesday evening was prayer meeting. Thursday evening was visit the sick. Friday evening was choir practice. I mean, and at all those gatherings, we sang.

  • I speak to the black experience, but I am always talking about the human condition.

  • Information helps you to see that you’re not alone. That there’s somebody in Mississippi and somebody in Tokyo who all have wept, who’ve all longed and lost, who’ve all been happy. So the library helps you to see, not only that you are not alone, but that you’re not really any different from everyone else.

  • I wasn’t a pretty girl. I was six feet tall at 15, you know.

  • Growing up, I decided, a long time ago, I wouldn’t accept any manmade differences between human beings, differences made at somebody else’s insistence or someone else’s whim or convenience.

  • I know that I’ve been guided by God. I am obedient.

  • I know that one of the great arts that the writer develops is the art of saying, ‘No. No, I’m finished. Bye.’ And leaving it alone. I will not write it into the ground. I will not write the life out of it. I won’t do that.

  • I’m considered wise, and sometimes I see myself as knowing. Most of the time, I see myself as wanting to know. And I see myself as a very interested person. I’ve never been bored in my life.

  • All of us knows, not what is expedient, not what is going to make us popular, not what the policy is, or the company policy – but in truth each of us knows what is the right thing to do. And that’s how I am guided.

  • I’m not a writer who teaches. I’m a teacher who writes.

  • When I cook for my family on Christmas, I make feijoada, a South American dish of roasted and smoked meats like ham, pork, beef, lamb, and bacon – all served with black beans and rice. It’s festive but different.

  • I agree with Balzac and 19th-century writers, black and white, who say, ‘I write for money.’ Yes, I think everybody should be paid handsomely; I insist on it, and I pay people who work for me, or with me, handsomely.

  • There’s something which impels us to show our inner souls. The more courageous we are, the more we succeed in explaining what we know.

  • I promised myself that I would write as well as I can, tell the truth, not to tell everything I know, but to make sure that everything I tell is true, as I understand it. And to use the eloquence which my language affords me.

  • It’s good to remember that in crises, natural crises, human beings forget for awhile their ignorances, their biases, their prejudices. For a little while, neighbors help neighbors and strangers help strangers.

  • I never had that feeling that I had to carry the weight of somebody’s ignorance around with me. And that was true for racists who wanted to use the ‘n’ word when talking about me or about my people, or the stupidity of people who really wanted to belittle other folks because they weren’t pretty or they weren’t rich or they weren’t clever.

  • Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.

  • The sadness of the women’s movement is that they don’t allow the necessity of love. See, I don’t personally trust any revolution where love is not allowed.

  • Of course, there are those critics – New York critics as a rule – who say, ‘Well, has a new book out and of course it’s good but then she’s a natural writer.’ Those are the ones I want to grab by the throat and wrestle to the floor because it takes me forever to get it to sing. I work at the language.

  • I think that that’s the wisest thing – to prevent illness before we try to cure something.

  • Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘Run like hell and all of fire.’ You don’t want modesty, you want humility.

  • Living in a state of terror was new to many white people in America, but black people have been living in a state of terror in this country for more than 400 years.

  • I find in my poetry and prose the rhythms and imagery of the best – I mean, when I’m at my best – of the good Southern black preachers. The lyricism of the spirituals and the directness of gospel songs and the mystery of blues are in my music or in my poetry and prose, or I missed everything.

  • Don’t let the incidents which take place in life bring you low. And certainly don’t whine. You can be brought low, that’s OK, but don’t be reduced by them. Just say, ‘That’s life.’

  • Our stories come from our lives and from the playwright’s pen, the mind of the actor, the roles we create, the artistry of life itself and the quest for peace.

  • A black person grows up in this country – and in many places – knowing that racism will be as familiar as salt to the tongue. Also, it can be as dangerous as too much salt. I think that you must struggle for betterment for yourself and for everyone.

  • Independence is a heady draught, and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive and with each drink you want more.

  • I had given up some youth for knowledge, but my gain was more valuable than the loss.

  • Hold those things that tell your history and protect them. During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything? The ability to have somebody to tell your story to is so important. It says: ‘I was here. I may be sold tomorrow. But you know I was here.’

  • While the rest of the world has been improving technology, Ghana has been improving the quality of man’s humanity to man.

  • The most important thing I can tell you about aging is this: If you really feel that you want to have an off-the-shoulder blouse and some big beads and thong sandals and a dirndl skirt and a magnolia in your hair, do it. Even if you’re wrinkled.

  • When I write, I tend to twist my hair. Something for my small mind to do, I guess.

  • Those of us who submitted or surrendered our ideas and dreams and identities to the ‘leaders’ must take back our rights, our identities, our responsibilities.

  • We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans – because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings. That’s why we paint, that’s why we dare to love someone – because we have the impulse to explain who we are.

  • Bitterness is cancer – it eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure.

  • When I was 8 years old I became a mute and was a mute until I was 13, and I thought of my whole body as an ear, so I can go into a crowd and sit still and absorb all sound. That talent or ability has lasted and served me until today.

  • I love the song ‘I Hope You Dance’ by Lee Ann Womack. I was going to write that song, but someone beat me to it.

  • When a person is going through hell, and she encounters someone who went through hellish hell and survived, then she can say, ‘Mine is not so bad as all that. She came through, and so can I.’

  • I like chicken a lot because chicken is generous – that is to say, it’s obedient. It will do whatever you tell it to do.

  • Loving someone liberates the lover as well as the beloved. And that kind of love comes with age.

  • The first decade of the twentieth century was not a great time to be born black and poor and female in St. Louis, Missouri, but Vivian Baxter was born black and poor, to black and poor parents. Later she would grow up and be called beautiful. As a grown woman she would be known as the butter-colored lady with the blowback hair.

  • I’m always disappointed when people don’t live up to their potential. I know that a number of people look down on themselves and consequently on everybody who looks like them. But that, too, can change.

  • I admire people who dare to take the language, English, and understand it and understand the melody.

  • Whenever I want to laugh, I read a wonderful book, ‘Children’s Letters to God.’ You can open it anywhere. One I read recently said, ‘Dear God, thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy.’

  • As far as I knew white women were never lonely, except in books. White men adored them, Black men desired them and Black women worked for them.

  • I liked to write from the time I was about 12 or 13. I loved to read. And since I only spoke to my brother, I would write down my thoughts. And I think I wrote some of the worst poetry west of the Rockies. But by the time I was in my 20s, I found myself writing little essays and more poetry – writing at writing.

  • Nothing succeeds like success. Get a little success, and then just get a little more.

  • Effective action is always unjust.

  • I became the kind of parent my mother was to me.

  • The loss of young first love is so painful that it borders on the ludicrous.

  • I believe that each of us comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory.

  • In all my work, in the movies I write, the lyrics, the poetry, the prose, the essays, I am saying that we may encounter many defeats – maybe it’s imperative that we encounter the defeats – but we are much stronger than we appear to be and maybe much better than we allow ourselves to be. Human beings are more alike than unalike.

  • To take a few nouns, and a few pronouns, and adverbs and adjectives, and put them together, ball them up, and throw them against the wall to make them bounce. That’s what Norman Mailer did. That’s what James Baldwin did, and Joan Didion did, and that’s what I do – that’s what I mean to do.

  • I keep a hotel room in my town, although I have a large house. And I go there at about 5:30 in the morning, and I start working. And I don’t allow anybody to come in that room. I work on yellow pads and with ballpoint pens. I keep a Bible, a thesaurus, a dictionary, and a bottle of sherry. I stay there until midday.

  • The poetry you read has been written for you, each of you – black, white, Hispanic, man, woman, gay, straight.

  • Like a pianist runs her fingers over the keys, I’ll search my mind for what to say. Now, the poem may want you to write it. And then sometimes you see a situation and think, ‘I’d like to write about that.’ Those are two different ways of being approached by a poem, or approaching a poem.

  • Timidity makes a person modest. It makes him or her say, ‘I’m not worthy of being written up in the record of deeds in heaven or on earth.’ Timidity keeps people from their good. They are afraid to say, ‘Yes, I deserve it.’

  • When younger writers and poets, musicians and painters are weakened by a stemming of funds, they come to me saddened, not as full of dreams and excitement and ideas. I am then weakened and diminished, and made less rich.

  • Human beings love poetry. They don’t even know it sometimes… whether they’re the songs of Bono, or the songs of Justin Bieber… they’re listening to poetry.

  • My grandmother took me to church on Sunday all day long, every Sunday into the night. Then Monday evening was the missionary meeting. Tuesday evening was usher board meeting. Wednesday evening was prayer meeting. Thursday evening was visit the sick. Friday evening was choir practice. I mean, and at all those gatherings, we sang.

  • I speak to the black experience, but I am always talking about the human condition.

  • Information helps you to see that you’re not alone. That there’s somebody in Mississippi and somebody in Tokyo who all have wept, who’ve all longed and lost, who’ve all been happy. So the library helps you to see, not only that you are not alone, but that you’re not really any different from everyone else.

  • I wasn’t a pretty girl. I was six feet tall at 15, you know.

  • Growing up, I decided, a long time ago, I wouldn’t accept any manmade differences between human beings, differences made at somebody else’s insistence or someone else’s whim or convenience.

  • I know that I’ve been guided by God. I am obedient.

  • I know that one of the great arts that the writer develops is the art of saying, ‘No. No, I’m finished. Bye.’ And leaving it alone. I will not write it into the ground. I will not write the life out of it. I won’t do that.

  • I’m considered wise, and sometimes I see myself as knowing. Most of the time, I see myself as wanting to know. And I see myself as a very interested person. I’ve never been bored in my life.

  • All of us knows, not what is expedient, not what is going to make us popular, not what the policy is, or the company policy – but in truth each of us knows what is the right thing to do. And that’s how I am guided.

  • I’m not a writer who teaches. I’m a teacher who writes.

  • When I cook for my family on Christmas, I make feijoada, a South American dish of roasted and smoked meats like ham, pork, beef, lamb, and bacon – all served with black beans and rice. It’s festive but different.

  • I agree with Balzac and 19th-century writers, black and white, who say, ‘I write for money.’ Yes, I think everybody should be paid handsomely; I insist on it, and I pay people who work for me, or with me, handsomely.

  • There’s something which impels us to show our inner souls. The more courageous we are, the more we succeed in explaining what we know.

  • I promised myself that I would write as well as I can, tell the truth, not to tell everything I know, but to make sure that everything I tell is true, as I understand it. And to use the eloquence which my language affords me.

  • It’s good to remember that in crises, natural crises, human beings forget for awhile their ignorances, their biases, their prejudices. For a little while, neighbors help neighbors and strangers help strangers.

  • I never had that feeling that I had to carry the weight of somebody’s ignorance around with me. And that was true for racists who wanted to use the ‘n’ word when talking about me or about my people, or the stupidity of people who really wanted to belittle other folks because they weren’t pretty or they weren’t rich or they weren’t clever.

  • Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.

  • The sadness of the women’s movement is that they don’t allow the necessity of love. See, I don’t personally trust any revolution where love is not allowed.

  • Of course, there are those critics – New York critics as a rule – who say, ‘Well, has a new book out and of course it’s good but then she’s a natural writer.’ Those are the ones I want to grab by the throat and wrestle to the floor because it takes me forever to get it to sing. I work at the language.

  • I think that that’s the wisest thing – to prevent illness before we try to cure something.

  • Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘Run like hell and all of fire.’ You don’t want modesty, you want humility.

  • Living in a state of terror was new to many white people in America, but black people have been living in a state of terror in this country for more than 400 years.

  • I find in my poetry and prose the rhythms and imagery of the best – I mean, when I’m at my best – of the good Southern black preachers. The lyricism of the spirituals and the directness of gospel songs and the mystery of blues are in my music or in my poetry and prose, or I missed everything.

  • At one time in my life, from the time I was seven until I was about 13, I didn’t speak. I only spoke to my brother. The reason I didn’t speak: I had been molested, and I told the name of the molester to my brother who told it to the family.

  • I was very blessed to have family and friends, but particularly family, who told me I was not only all right, I was just right, so I believe that my brain is a good one, and it’s lasting me very well.

  • I’ve still not written as well as I want to. I want to write so that the reader in Des Moines, Iowa, in Kowloon, China, in Cape Town, South Africa, can say, ‘You know, that’s the truth. I wasn’t there, and I wasn’t a six-foot black girl, but that’s the truth.’

  • I love a Hebrew National hot dog with an ice-cold Corona – no lime. If the phone rings, I won’t answer until I’m done.

  • Achievement brings its own anticlimax.

  • And if a person is religious, I think it’s good, it helps you a bit. But if you’re not, at least you can have the sense that there is a condition inside you which looks at the stars with amazement and awe.

  • My life has been long, and believing that life loves the liver of it, I have dared to try many things, sometimes trembling, but daring still.

  • Whenever something went wrong when I was young – if I had a pimple or if my hair broke – my mom would say, ‘Sister mine, I’m going to make you some soup.’ And I really thought the soup would make my pimple go away or my hair stronger.

  • Until blacks and whites see each other as brother and sister, we will not have parity. It’s very clear.

  • I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around. I’ll probably be writing when the Lord says, ‘Maya, , it’s time.’

  • It’s so tedious writing cookbooks or writing the recipes because I’ve never been much of a measurer. But to write a book, you have to measure everything.

  • When the human race neglects its weaker members, when the family neglects its weakest one – it’s the first blow in a suicidal movement. I see the neglect in cities around the country, in poor white children in West Virginia and Virginia and Kentucky – in the big cities, too, for that matter.

  • All information belongs to everybody all the time. It should be available. It should be accessible to the child, to the woman, to the man, to the old person, to the semiliterate, to the presidents of universities, to everyone. It should be open.

  • I’ve never had a dislike for men. I’ve been badly treated by some. But I’ve been loved greatly by some. I married a lot of them.

  • I like to have guns around. I don’t like to carry them.

  • I like to speak on matters which matter to human beings, and almost everything matters to human beings.

  • Though I do manage to mumble around in about seven or eight languages, English remains the most beautiful of languages. It will do anything.

  • I’ve conducted the Boston Pops! Imagine that! Me! ! I’ve sang and danced at La Scala!
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