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In 1993, President Bill Clinton asked Maya Angelou to write a poem for his inauguration. After Clinton’s inaugural address, Maya Angelou recited her original poem “On the Pulse of Morning.” As the second poet in history to read a poem at a presidential inauguration—Robert Frost was the first when he recited a poem at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961—Angelou captured the attention of the nation. President Clinton called her poem “an eternal gift to America.” This clip from American Masters | Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise features part of her performance at the inauguration and provides background about Clinton’s reasons for asking her, her response, and how the poem was received by the public.
In this resource, students explore the role of poetry in American politics, compare Angelou and Frost, and consider how Angelou’s poem reflects the challenges and concerns of the time. Discussion questions, teaching tips, and a student handout push students to engage with Angelou’s words and to think critically about her famous work.