African American Poetry

A rock, a river, and a tree.

These three common, simple, everyday things of nature are the wise and gentle subjects of the only African American poetry ever to be read at the inauguration ceremony for a president of the United States of America.

The soul-stirring African American poetry written by the remarkable Maya Angelou was appreciated enough by William Jefferson Clinton that he asked her to write a poem especially for his own presidential inauguration.

Only once before in the history of the US presidency had a poet read their work at a presidential inauguration.  That was Robert Frost reading for President John F. Kennedy.  But Robert Frost wasn’t African American.  And he wasn’t a woman, either.

In On the Pulse of the Morning, Angelou uses the rock, the river, and the tree to convey messages of peace, unity, and timelessness in a very simple yet thought-provoking fashion.  Her compelling words of wisdom are beautiful and elegant in their very simplicity.

The writer of this groundbreaking African American poetry was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928, into a life of trouble, heartbreak, and turmoil.

She learned the power of her words in a very tragic series of events when she was only eight years old.  She confided that her mother’s boyfriend had been sexually abusing her.  In horrifying response, Angelou’s uncles beat the boyfriend to death.

Upon seeing that “the power of (her) words led to someone’s death,” young Angelou stopped speaking altogether and remained mute for five years.

Once she found her voice again at the age of 13, she became determined to use that power for the betterment of the world.  She now speaks Spanish, Italian, Arabic, French, and Ghanian Fante.

Angelou has put the power of her words into her award-winning African American poetry, screenplays, and autobiographies.  She is a highly acclaimed singer, dancer, and actor on stage, television, and in movies.

Although she never attended college herself, she has received several honorary doctorate degrees and fellowships and has taught at universities around the world.  She was a highly valued activist during the American Civil Rights Movement and Ladies Home Journal magazine named her one of the 30 most powerful women in America in 2001.

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