Stylist is running its first ever feminist advent calendar in 2018, with a remarkable woman revealing who her feminist icon is every day until 25 December. Here, Nikita Gill reveals why Maya Angelou is her ultimate feminist icon.
My feminist icon is Dr Maya Angelou. When I was 17 years old, after a long search through Delhi’s Daryaganj, I found a copy of And Still I Rise, Maya Angelou’s third anthology of poetry. At the time I was struggling with my identity as a very young woman and what that meant for my personhood. The poetry in this book, particularly the poems “Phenomenal Woman” and “And Still I Rise” made me appreciate who I was as an individual and as a human being before I was anything else.
It wasn’t just the poetry (even though that in itself was immensely powerful and life-changing). The more I read about Maya Angelou’s work with civil rights, especially her work with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, the more I was moved. She taught me that artist could also mean activist and the two were not mutually exclusive. I can’t tell you how important this lesson was for a teenage girl who saw art as her only means to communicate with the world she saw crumbling around her. She taught me that even if the cards are stacked firmly against you, you can still change the world.
Dr Angelou’s work is transformational. She teaches people, especially women, to embrace and empower themselves, and most of all, to take their stories back where they have been snatched away. Her work celebrates the difficult and the different within us all, whilst tackling racism and misogyny all at once. I found myself needing more and more of her work as I grew older. Her books are now my constant companions, a war ritual I clothe myself in when I am going to face something deeply troubling in life. Even the most gargantuan task seems small when it is confronted with the words: “You may trod me in the dirt, But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
Fierce Fairytales & Other Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill is out in hardback now (Orion, £12.99).
Images: provided by Nikita Gill
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