“When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am.”

We’ve lost Maya Angelou the person, but not the beauty and wisdom she pinned down with words. If you need inspiration today, let her descriptions of the writing life lift you up.

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

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 it was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less.

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

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

When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that.

But I’m also trying for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound. I really love language. I love it for what it does for us, how it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and delicacies of our existence. And then it allows us to laugh, allows us to show wit. Real wit is shown in language. We need language.

I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.

Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.

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.

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

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 don’t think there’s such a thing as autobiographical fiction. If I say it happened, it happened, even if only in my mind. 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.

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

The best candy shop a child can be left alone in is the library.

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. Not just how tall we are, or thin… but who we are internally… perhaps even spiritually. 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.

Learn more about Dr. Angelou’s remarkable life in the New York Timesor see how other bloggers are remembering her in the Maya Angelou topic in the Reader — we particularly love these pieces from Black Millennial Musings and All at once….

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  1. Oh my gosh, I love this post. Her words are so inspiring. If anything gets me back to my memoir, it will be this post. THANK YOU!

  2. Maya Angelou inspired not only the writer in me; but also the woman, the human being and spirit.
    May she rest in everlasting peaceful glory~

  3. I love Maya Angelou. She’s a great inspiration for black women writers like myself. Thanks for sharing her quotes. I love the 6th one about measuring the power of words… Such a remarkable woman.

  4. An epitome of wisdom finally laid to rest. May her soul rest in peace and may she find her words to be even more wondrous and beautiful up there in the heavens

  5. An extraordinary woman. I have admired her work as a writer and her humanity as a person for many years. Though her physical body is gone we are blessed to have her words remain with us for an eternity. May she rest in peace.

  6. The quote I love best says, “…I write for myself and that reader who will pay the dues.”

    I will miss Angelou terribly. Her love of words and her poetry is absolutely beautiful. And this quote is encouragement for me and hopefully for other writers as well. I write for the reader and for myself equally, either way it is my kind of truth.

    I love her other quotes too, especially the ones dealing with writing as a fundamental part of life.

  7. So beautifully said: writing is a way to show our inner souls and it really does take courage. Ms. Angelou certainly displayed that courage. My condolences to her friends and family.

  8. This is beautiful. It’s how I’ve been feeling lately about my own writing. It feels awesome to express myself, and if I help someone out in the process, that’s even better. I blog about being a twin mom. Writing is my happy place. :)

  9. She didn’t write to inform or impress us; she wrote to impact us, to impact a community and finally to impact the world. I will miss seeing her in living form; but I am glad to know that her words will outlive her…and continue doing what it has!

  10. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. We will never forget you Maya Angelou.

  11. Thanks so much for this! She was so masterful with words. She breathed life into them and allowed them an existence beyond paper and screen. What an inspiration! May she continue to infuse and inspire…

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

    I’m sure we all have a story to tell. It was been very encouraging and inspirational to hear her story, her stories, her insight. She was able to release her agony and it has helped me and so many others. Many thanks.

  13. I didn’t know who this inspirational lady was until today. She gives another beautiful reason to see writing as an art, a mode of transport taking you to different worlds and to realise its true power to stir your deepest feelings. I love this blog!

  14. “I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. 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’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

    This is all I knew about Maya Angelou, and this quote alone tells me what a valuable gem the world has lost.

    1. Love it. Thanks for the big quote. But she’s not “gone” and the world has not “lost” her or anyone. She dropped the human costume but her vibe is here now for sure. No worries.

  15. Maya Angelou and her work are a huge inspiration to me. Her words resonate deeply and she reminds us all of the struggles & joy life has to offer no matter our background, history, gender, race of class. Her writings inspire me to strive to be a better person, in every way.

  16. I couldn’t agree more with you. Beautifully written. I just posted a piece about words myself. Have a read if you would like :)

  17. No words can express the enormity of my appreciation for the wonderful gift you are to humankind. Your truth has inspired me from I was child. Thanks to you, I’ve found my truth and I’m brave enough to just live it! Rest well Ms. Maya… well.

  18. So grateful to Maya for her courage to let her words just roll out and find each one of us in our hurting pace and bring healing to it. God bless your heart Maya, wherever you are, say can you write to us from there??