18 pages 36 minutes read

Maya Angelou

The Lesson

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1978

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Much like Angelou, Dickinson inventories her emotional pain and struggles to account for its tectonic impact. She sorts through experiences in her efforts to come up with a comparison to exactly how she feels in her near-despair. Like Angelou, the speaker here perseveres and, in the end, refuses to surrender to her despair.

Life Is Fine by Langston Hughes (1949)

Written by one of Angelou’s acknowledged influences, the poem, like “The Lesson,” speaks of the hardships and struggles of life drawing on but no particular to the African American experience in racist America. Using irony, which Angelou’s speaker resists, Hughes’s speaker, contemplating death by suicide, struggles through to the epiphanic understand that life is fine despite the anxieties and heartaches.

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou (1978)

Published in the same collection as “The Lesson,” this poem gives voice to Angelou’s sense of sassy self-confidence and joyous refusal to surrender to the influence of others who seek to belittle her. More specifically directed at racists, the poem nevertheless celebrates the empowerment of the self.

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman (2021)