Maya Angelou was born in 1928, a time of oppression for African Americans, and although as an adult Angelou experienced a different America to the one experienced by her ancestors, this poem is her declaration that she refuses to be defined by history and that she is proclaiming herself to be a proud accomplished woman who will not be dragged down by detractors. It is a poem with many themes; rising above the past, overcoming difficulty, strength as a woman, defying racism - it is a poem of defiance and triumph at the same time.
Despite its popularity the poem received decidedly mixed reviews; Angelou is respected far more for her autobiographical work than for her poetry. Typically, her autobiographies have detailed the traumas in her life, and her poetic writing has catalogued her working through these traumas. "And Still I Rise" was written in 1978 which was really they height of Angelou's career - in this period she was awarded an incredible thirty honorary degrees from Universities all over the world. Throughout her career Angelou alternated an autobiography and a volume of poetry. This poem is the title poem of volume three.
The poem has become one of Maya Angelou's most famous and is generally known even by those unfamiliar with the author or the rest of her work. It is often recited and was in fact said by critic William Sylvester to be far more interesting when she was reading it aloud; her intonation is inspirational and the poem has been used by many educational establishments to motivate their students and was also used by the United Negro College Fund during their fiftieth anniversary year.