Say “Maya Angelou” and the first phrase that comes to your mind might be “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” But who was the woman who made that phrase sing? Before we share some of the best Maya Angelou quotes, let’s learn a little bit about this amazing woman.
Who Was Maya Angelou?
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928, her parents’ early separation sent Maya to live with her grandparents in Arkansas. She grew up in the deep South, with only one traumatic trip back to St. Louis. As a young adult, Angelou moved to California to live with her mother. Later, she would travel the US and the world, living in Africa for a season before returning to the US and discovering a love for teaching.
Maya Angelou was a poet, a writer, an activist, a teacher —and much more. She spoke out against racism and was open about abuse far before #metoo. During her long life she valued and wrote about her family and was generous in her encouragement to others as you’ll see in these following quotes.
Best Maya Angelou Quotes
1. “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
No nonsense, hard-hitting. But that’s not all. In an interview with the Smithsonian, when asked about her ability to easily navigate through her “diverse life and career,” she responded by looking at the next generation.
2. “. . . we cripple our children, we cripple each other with those designations that if you’re a brick mason you shouldn’t love the ballet. Who made that rule? You ever see a person lay bricks? [She moves her hands in a precise bricklaying manner.] Because of the eye and the hands, of course he or she would like to see ballet. It is that precise, that established, that organized, that sort of development from the bottom to the top.” —Smithsonian Magazine interview
On Writing: The Best Maya Angelou Quotes
Speaking of her childhood and writing, she said:
3. “Well, I’ve always written. . . . I loved poetry, still do. But I really, really loved it then. I would write some—of course it was terrible—but I’d always written something down.”
In this next quote, you can almost hear her acknowledging those early poems. This is the famous Maya Angelou ‘do the best you can’ quote.
4. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Her poems would rightly become famous. She was the second poet to be invited to perform at a presidential inauguration. Later her own poetry would be referenced as Amanda Gorman, the sixth poet at a presidential inauguration referenced “Still I Rise.” That leads to another of Maya Angelou’s best quotes:
5. “Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.”
Maya Angelou understood the challenge of being a writer.
6. “. . . the writer has to take the most used, most familiar objects—nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs—ball them together and make them bounce, turn them a certain way and make people get into a romantic mood; and another way, into a bellicose mood. I’m most happy to be a writer.”
She also believed firmly in the freedom of information. In a Huffington Post interview, she said:
7. “Information helps you to see that you’re not alone. That there’s somebody in Mississippi and somebody in Tokyo who all have wept, who’ve all longed and lost, who’ve all been happy. So the library helps you to see, not only that you are not alone, but that you’re not really any different from everyone else. There may be details that are different, but a human being is a human being.” —Huffington Post
That said, it’s not surprising to guess her advice for you:
8. “My encouragement to you is to go tomorrow to the library.”
She’s not the only person we’ve quoted who loved libraries. So does Neil Gaiman. Now that you’ve read these best Maya Angelou quotes, you might want to learn more. Don’t miss our further reading links below.