Editor’s Note: At the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity, we were trying to think of an appropriate way to pay tribute to the beautiful and resilient author, actress, and activist who was raised in Arkansas, Maya Angelou. Then, we came across a piece written by Dr. Erin Clair that reminded us that Angelou spoke to our minds, our souls, and perhaps most importantly – our conscience.
Maya Angelou’s Arkansas
Stamps, Arkansas, is a tiny place. There’s nothing there, just like a hundred other towns in Arkansas. Hot dirt. Railroad tracks. Mosquitoes to kill you. People to do worse.
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
People from Arkansas speak of it as a place to escape from. People not from there see it as a pit. But I can tell you that it’s where strength has made its home.
“Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.”
I can tell you that there is no place in this world like a town in Arkansas. That is where you will discover your soul if you ever had one.
“Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?”
That is where you will fight monsters far worse than would attack you anywhere else, and reach a glory far more brave and glimmering than anywhere else would allow you.
“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
In Arkansas, the air is thick with thoughts. In Arkansas, you can be mute for years and people will wait for you to speak. In Arkansas, you can’t grow a garden so much as you can grow a tangle of ethereal beanstalks that touch the sky.
“Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?”
In Arkansas, your eyes have all the desire your body would require, cutting through the night like arrows within the blue humidity of June. In Arkansas, everything is free but comes with a cost you’ll never fathom.
“Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.”
I live in this Arkansas, rising with the day, swelling with the night. I live in the Arkansas of heaven that you only get to by facing your hell. I live in Arkansas, rising.
Dr. Erin Clair is an Assistant Professor of English and Director of Composition at Arkansas Tech University, where she teaches courses in cultural studies. She writes a mixed-genre blog found at southerneclair.tumblr.com.
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The Institute on Race and Ethnicity at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock was founded in July 2011. With a vision to make Arkansas the best state in the country for promoting and celebrating racial and ethnic diversity, the Institute conducts research, promotes scholarship and provides programs that address racial inequities. It does so by facilitating open and honest dialogue aimed at empowering communities and informing public policy to achieve more equitable outcomes.