The progression of second-wave feminism in America saw Black feminist writers such as Maya Angelou and Audre Lorde utilizing literature, and notably poetry, to resist against their oppression, due not only to their gender but also to their race. Lorde states in her 1977 essay, “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” that poetry, for women, “is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.” One of the aims of Lorde’s explicitly political poems—as well as Angelou’s poetry and her autobiographical novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)—was to empower and liberate Black women, not just individually, but collectively. This liberation is accomplished in part through the deconstruction of stereotypical views of Black womanhood, as seen in Caged Bird, and in part through the linguistic strategies of empowerment employed in the poetry of both Angelou and Lorde. This essay analyzes these strategies in Lorde’s “A Litany for Survival” and Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” as they include the use of both collective and subjective speakers, calls to action, and declarative statements. By repurposing the “artistic” form of poetry and the “personal” form of autobiography, Lorde’s and Angelou’s writings became an example of women empowering their own voices by reworking and reshaping the structures of traditional, constrictive literary genres to fit their Black feminist identities.
Jernigan, Lydia, "Strategies of Liberation and Empowerment in Maya Angelou's and Audre Lorde's Black Feminist Literature" (2023). Student Works. 7.