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Cat in the Stax: Celebrating Maya Angelou

By Ethan Shea

"Maya Angelou"

Maya Angelou in 1969 (Photo courtesy of NYT)

Yesterday, April 4, 2023, marked 95 years since the birth of poet, memoirist, civil rights, and women’s rights activist Maya Angelou.

Angelou passed away at the age of 86 in 2014, leaving behind a literary legacy like no other. She was born in 1928 in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. After several moves and a difficult upbringing, at the age of 16, Angelou became the first Black woman streetcar conductor in San Francisco. Soon after, at the age of 17, Angelou gave birth to her son, Guy Johnson.

At one point in her life, Maya Angelou was even a professional dancer, having worked with Alvin Ailey and moved to New York City to pursue a career in dance. After touring Europe and even recording an album in which she sang calypso music, Angelou eventually decided to focus on her writing career.

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” – Maya Angelou

Angelou worked with civil rights activists such as James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., even working to organize a march with King. Sadly, after postponing the event, King was assassinated on Angelou’s 40th birthday. A year later, Angelou published her breakout autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

In 1972, a screenplay written by Angelou, Georgia, Georgia, became the first known screenplay written by a Black woman to be produced. Angelou even wrote the soundtrack for the film!

Angelou was also a mentor of Oprah Winfrey, having met in the 1970s. After Angelou’s death, Winfrey went on to speak at her memorial service along with Michelle Obama.

In addition to her seven autobiographies, Angelou is also a celebrated poet. Although her poetry has not received as much critical attention as her prose, many believe Angelou’s poetry is understudied.

Angelou’s poetry readings, the public and performative aspects of them, are what made them special. Considering April is National Poetry Month, you should definitely consider reading some of Angelou’s poetry if you have not already!

If you have a few free minutes, you can also read this blog commemorating Angelou becoming the first Black woman to be minted on a quarter.

And finally, to celebrate Maya Angelou’s birthday, check out Falvey’s collection of her work.

Headshot of Ethan SheaEthan Shea is a second-year graduate student in the English Department and Graduate Assistant at Falvey Library.


Weekend Recs: Iranian Protests

Happy Friday, Wildcats! Falvey Library is delivering you another semester of Weekend Recs, a blog dedicated to filling you in on what to read, listen to, and watch over the weekend. Annie, a graduate assistant from the Communication department, scours the internet, peruses the news, and digs through book stacks to find new, relevant, and thought-provoking content that will challenge you and prepare you for the upcoming week. 

Over the past month, protests in Iran have been raging after the death of an Iran-born Kurdish young woman, Jîna Amini, also known by her Iranian legal name Mahsa Amini. This sparked global conversations about women’s rights. Although protests were provoked by Amini’s murder and focused on Iran’s treatment of women, many protestors are broadly calling for an overthrow of the current regime. This weekend’s recs will give you an overview of some key information and context about what is currently happening in Iran.

If you have 5 minutes…and need a basic overview of the Iran situation, read this BBC article. It will answer any questions about the situation for those who may not be caught up.

If you have another 5 minutes…and can’t imagine your life without the Internet, read this article about how the Iranian government is shutting down Iranian citizens’ access to the Internet, heavily suppressing their message.

If you have 7 minutes…and don’t know the turbulent history between Iran and the U.S., read this article from The Hill. The U.S. inadvertently played a major role in the current regimes rise to power, and as much of our conflicts in the Middle East, it was triggered by oil interests.

If you have another 7 minutes…and are wondering why I am referring to Mahsa Amini as Jîna, read this opinion piece. “Mahsa”  was the legal Iranian name given to her, while “Jîna” was her Kurdish name, a key facet often overlooked in media coverage. It is very possible that her Kurdish ethnicity played a role in her murder.

If you have 10 minutes…and want to learn more about Amini’s death that sparked global protests, read this New York Times article. Her death was the result of Iran’s strict “morality” laws, which strip women of the right to choose whether to practice hijab or not.

If you have another 10 minutes…and want to learn more about the response of the Iranian people, read this New York Times article. The article specifically focuses on how young people have been the driving force behind recent protests.

If you have 12 minutes…and are wondering how the Iranian military regime has responded to protests, read this article from the New York Times. The Iranian regime’s security forces remain supportive of the current regime and have stifled protests.

Photo by Neil Webb on Unsplash

If you have 15 minutes…and want to hear the stories of two girls who were killed as a result of protesting the death of Mahsa “Jîna” Amini, read this New York Times article. Nika Shakarami and Sarina Esmailzadeh are just two girls of many who have been brutalized in the military response to the protests.

If you have another 15 minutes…and want to learn some basic history on the Kurds in Iran, read this article. Despite the Iranian government’s harsh and violent treatment of all women, Amini’s Kurdish identity is something that should not be erased, and Iran has a long history with the Kurds.

If you have 1 hour and 32 minutes…and want to check out a documentary about women’s rights activism in Iran, watch NASRIN, available online through Falvey. This 2020 documentary highlights the story of Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian political prisoner and women’s rights activist.

If you have 1 hour and 41 minutes…and want to learn about international women’s rights and girl’s global access to education, watch Girl Rising, also available online through Falvey. Girl Rising is a documentary that features the stories of 9 girls around the world as they share their stories.

Annie Stockmal is a graduate student in the Communication Department and graduate assistant in Falvey Library.


Dig Deeper: In Honor of the Late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Art courtesy of Joanne Quinn, Director of Communication and Marketing

“Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue.’ The Hebrew quote from Deuteronomy adorned the Late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s chambers.” Embodying that passage wholeheartedly, Justice Ginsburg continually fought for equality throughout her lifetime, passing away on Sept. 18, at the age of 87 after a long fought battle with pancreatic cancer. Her fight and strength never waivered as she battled for gender equality; fighting for women’s rights before and during her 27-year service as a Supreme Court justice.

Graduating Cornell University at the top of her class in 1954, Justice Ginsburg began studying at Harvard Law School before transferring to Columbia Law School where she tied for first in her class upon graduating in 1959. Despite her accomplishments, she faced gender-based discrimination during and post-academia, and had difficulty finding employment at the start of her career. Justice Ginsburg worked as a law clerk for Judge Edmund L. Palmieri of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York from from 1960-62; joining the Columbia Law School Project on International Civil Procedure as a research associate in 1961. “This project fully immersed her in Swedish culture, where she lived abroad to do research for her book on Swedish Civil Procedure practices.”

Upon returning from Sweden in 1963, Justice Ginsburg taught at Rutgers Law School, until she accepted the offer to teach at Columbia Law School in 1972 and “became the first female professor to earn tenure.” During the 1970s, she directed the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union “and successfully argued six landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.” In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsberg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Continuing to advocate for women’s rights, she served on the court for 13 years until President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1993. “She is the second woman—and the first Jewish woman—to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The longest serving woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg “earned the nickname ‘Notorious RBG’ for her strong dissents;” significantly impacting the law with cases such as United States v. Virginia,  Safford Unified School District v. Redding, Obergefell v. Hodges, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., and many more. Honoring the Late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the links below provide additional information on her life and legacy.

Links curated by Merrill Stein, Political Science Librarian.

Kallie Stahl ’17 MA is Communication and Marketing Specialist at Falvey Memorial Library.




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Last Modified: October 12, 2020

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