Phenomenal Women

I remember reading works by these women through childhood. Whether required for school or voluntary, each of them influenced me in ways I never anticipated. Each woman I remark upon today changed history for the better with the power of their words. They overcame adversity in many forms, often using their experiences as fuel for their writing. They serve as inspiration as women and as writers.

Zora Neale Hurston
1891 – 1960

Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.

My first exposure to Hurston occurred in high school when I read Their Eyes Were Watching God. I remember my classmates’ frustration at the regional dialectic used by the novel’s characters. Where my peers found obstacles, I found reward. As an avid bookworm, I found her use of language challenging yet fascinating. She provided a lens into her life, giving me a taste of a life I’d never know otherwise.

Her ability to transport the reader, if open to mental exercise, is a model for writers everywhere. I know she’s not the only novelist to incorporate regional dialect, let alone difficult language. When you push yourself to read something different, you look at the language in an entirely different way. I found myself rereading for depth as much as clarity, which ultimately prepared me for analyzing more complex works, such as T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. Additionally, she gave me a new challenge to aspire to as a writer: using rich dialect to bring my characters and their culture to life.

Maya Angelou
1928 – 2014

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

Few can match the transformative autobiographical power of Maya Angelou. She told her traumatic, impactful life story in poetry and prose. With the prompting of James Baldwin, she drafted and published her most popular work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. This particular account discusses a childhood trauma of great magnitude, one I recommend anyone read. It shows the healing power of story at its best. Angelou published several prominent poems, too. Some of her most famous are below.

Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.


Phenomenal Woman
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.


“Caged Bird Legacy | The Legacy Of Dr. Maya Angelou”. Mayaangelou.Com, 2019, Accessed 13 Feb 2019.

“Maya Angelou”. Biography, 2019,

Boyd, Valerie. “About Zora Neale Hurston”. Zoranealehurston.Com, 2019, Accessed 13 Feb 2019.

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