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Letters About Literature National Winners 2010

National Honor Winner, Level 1: Imani Jackson, MO

Dear Maya Angelou,

Your poem, “Phenomenal Woman” really changed the way I look at myself and helped me overcome a lot. Lots of people used to pick on me, and it would really bother me. Now whenever someone points and laughs at me, I just smile at them and walk away.

The first time I heard your poem, I was coming home from school crying because people were making mean jokes about the way I dressed on the bus. I came into the house with a river rushing down my face. My mom asked me what was wrong. I told her what happened on the bus. She told me to take a nap and she would wake me later. When something went wrong, my mom always told me to take a nap so that she could find a way to make me feel better. When she came back to wake me she had a piece of paper in her hand. It was your poem. She read it to me with so much expression that she sounded like she had been living the story of this poem all her life. She told me that everyone has different opinions on everything. They laugh at you because you’re different, but you laugh at them because they’re the same. Those words stuck with me that whole day.

Now every time I read your poem the words become stronger and more meaningful to me. When I’m beating myself up about the way I look or about my weight, it tells me that I don’t need to be skinny to fit a supermodel’s size, or that I don’t have to fit in and be like everyone else. I just have to be me and that’s all. I would recommend this poem to anyone who is having social problems or feels like they can’t make it. Now when people make fun of me for standing out, I just recite your poem in my head and it’s as if I have a shield blocking me that shoots the hate right back at the person who tried to bring me down.

Thank you for writing so many encouraging poems. You truly are a phenomenal woman. Your Fellow Reader,

Imani Jackson