Maya Angelou, 2017
acrylic on canvas
24 x 30 in
‘And Still I Rise’
“All the time I was painting I was listening to her autobiography on audio books,” Joan says. “Her writing is beautiful, her speaking voice is wonderful. It’s the story of a child, the daughter of sharecroppers who got raped when she was eight. She didn’t speak for five years, but during that time she read everything she could get her hands on. She’s an amazing woman.”
As you may have guessed, Joan was listening to Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” the breakthrough autobiography that chronicles her life up to the age of 17. So she painted Maya Angelou as a young girl, her hair in little pigtails, her unsmiling face looking you square in the eye with unflinching intelligence and resolve. Joan has written “And Still I Rise,” the title poem of Angelou’s third volume of poetry, in cursive in a lower corner of the painting.
As an activist, Angelou was once a coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and worked with both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
She was a consultant for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., and had the spunk to object to a paraphrase of a quote on the memorial that she said made King “look like an arrogant twit.” It was eventually removed.
Like Malcolm X, she rejected black nationalism and believed that it took black and white people working together to truly achieve equality and positive change.
“It is impossible to struggle for civil rights, equal rights for blacks, without including whites,” she said. “Because equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air -- we all have it, or none of us has it. That is the truth of it.”