16 of Maya Angelou’s Best Quotes

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Today would have been Maya Angelou’s 89th birthday. Let’s remember the poet, author, singer, and thinker with some of her most memorable quotes.

1. "You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them." — From Letter to My Daughter, 2008.

2. “[T]here is no thing so powerful as an idea whose time has come…there is no person so right as one who struggles for the rights of others.” — From a commencement address at Oberlin College, May 30, 1983.

3. “Nathaniel Hawthorne says, ‘Easy reading is damn hard writing.’ I try to pull the language in to such a sharpness that it jumps off the page. It must look easy, but it takes me forever to get it to look so easy. Of course, there are those critics—New York critics as a rule—who say, Well, Maya Angelou 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.” — From an interview with George Plimpton in The Paris Review, Fall 1990.

4. “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." — From an interview with George Plimpton in The Paris Review, Fall 1990.

5. “I like to write so that the readers are 30 pages into the book before they realize they’re reading. I like to write, try to write, so that the readers think they’re thinking that up.” — From an AP interview, November 1981.

6. “I would encourage the child to look at her [or] his world, at the people in their world, and to try to examine the cultures in their world without fear. I would try to lead the children into seeing that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.” — From an AP interview, October 1995.

7. “It is upon you to increase your virtue, the virtue of courage—it is upon you. You will be challenged mightily, and you will fall many times. But it is important to remember that it may be necessary to encounter defeat, I don’t know. But I do know that a diamond, one of the most precious elements in this planet, certainly one in many ways the hardest, is the result of extreme pressure, and time. Under less pressure, it’s crystal. Less pressure than that, its coal, less than that, its fossilized leaves are just plain dirt.” — From a commencement address at Wellesley College, June 8, 1982.

8. “I never trust anyone who says they love me if they say that they don’t love themselves. You can’t do it.” — From an address at Skidmore College, March 1993.

9. “I always write about my life 15 or 20 years later; then I can tell the truth about what happened, rather than the facts.” — From an AP interview, June 1986.

10. “Do the right thing. You really know what the right thing is. Fashions may change. Maybe you shouldn't wear short pants or short skirts or go without a shirt or go without a tie. That is a fashion, but the proper thing, the good thing to do, you already know. In truth, you know to be kind, to be courteous, to be fair. You know that.” — From an Academy of Achievement interview, January 22, 1997.

11. “I encourage you to live with life. Be courageous, adventurous. Give us a tomorrow, more than we deserve.” — From a 1977 commencement address at the University of California, Riverside.

12. “Never whine. Whining lets a brute know that a victim is in the neighborhood.” — From Letter to My Daughter, 2008.

13. “To develop courage you have to start developing courage as you do any other muscle. You have to start with small things and build it up.” — From a lecture in Rome, Ga., September 2007.

14. “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — From Bell Telephone Magazine, 1982.

15. “Poetry will help you to find out who you are inside yourself. If you really want to be at the top of your form, know who you are.” — From a speech at the United States Coast Guard Academy, March 2002.

16. “I would like to be remembered as a person who dared to love and who loved my work as well as people.” — From a lecture at East Central Community Center in Spokane, Wash., January 1982.