Why Did Maya Angelou Write "Phenomenal Woman"?

did-maya-angelou-write-phenomenal-woman Credit: Burns Library, Boston College/CC-BY-2.0

In an interview with the Academy of Achievement, Maya Angelou shared that she wrote "Phenomenal Woman" for women everywhere, saying, "I wrote it for black women, and white women, and Chinese women, and Japanese women, and Jewish women. I wrote it for Native American women, Aleut, Eskimo ladies. I wrote it for all women. Very fat women, very thin, pretty, plain." It was first published in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1978.

The poem appears along with four others in a collection published in 1995 titled "Phenomenal Woman." In the poem, the narrator describes several qualities, both physical and spiritual, that make her attractive and desirable. Like much of Angelou's written and spoken works, the poem is autobiographical and intended to empower readers and listeners. She draws upon the lessons learned in her own life about self-confidence, unconventional beauty and independence.

"Phenomenal Woman" was also featured in the film "Poetic Justice," in which Angelou acted.

Angelou boasts an extensive list of honors and achievements earned over the course of her lifetime in a range of disciplines and art forms. Her biography includes notable literary, theatrical and cinematographic works. One of Angelou's notable accomplishments was winning the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for the audio recording of "Phenomenal Woman."