“Still I Rise” is one of Maya Angelou’s most celebrated poems. Originally published in 1978 in Angelou’s third volume of verse, And Still I Rise, it shares its title with a play she wrote in 1976 and was written during a highly prolific time in the author’s career. By the time "Still I Rise" was published, Angelou had already achieved recognition for three autobiographies in addition to her previous two volumes of poetry. Angelou considered this poem a personal favorite and recited it frequently at public readings. She once stated in an interview that she often turned to this poem to empower her during difficult times.
Like Angelou’s autobiographical novels and plays, the poem embraces themes that embody both the African-American experience and feminism: racism, oppression, defiance, and hope. Angelou summons the pain and suffering of her African ancestors and proclaims her determination to cast off the chains of slavery not just as a black person, but specifically as a black woman in America. She will rise above the negative past and triumph over her detractors. Growing up in the 1930s, Angelou was raised by both her grandmother and mother. Both women were strong-willed, self-reliant, and, most astonishingly, successful in business—a remarkable feat for African-American women at the time. Nonetheless, Angelou witnessed firsthand their continuous efforts to survive in the face of racism and misogyny, fueling the defiant tone of “Still I Rise.” The poet refuses to be tied down by these societal issues and proclaims that she will overcome any obstacles as the powerful woman she knows she is.
While “Still I Rise” is one of Angelou’s most popular poems, some critics have argued that her talent as a writer lies in her nonfiction narratives rather than her poetry. Ellen Lippmann of School Library Journal finds the poems of Angelou’s third poetry volume stronger than her earlier verse, but still claims that Angelou’s prose is more powerful. Robert B. Stepto of Parnassus: Poetry in Review credits the success of Angelou’s autobiographies as the reason for her poetry’s positive reception, believing that the poems in general borrow elements from the styles of other black poets. Nevertheless, Lippmann states that, while Angelou’s poems are often uneven in style, they still present a powerful depiction of the female African-American experience.