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Pamela Redmond Satran

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I Wrote Maya Angelou's Best Poem Ever

Posted: 07/18/07 06:39 PM ET

Every woman should have a black lace bra, a cordless drill, and a past juicy enough that she's looking forward to retelling it in her old age.

Every woman should know how to fall in love without losing herself, when to try harder and when to walk away, and where to go when her soul needs soothing.

Sound familiar? That's because this advice -- Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know -- has probably landed in your email box. Maybe you know it best by its usual tagline: "Maya Angelou's Best Poem Ever."

Well, I don't know how Maya Angelou feels about this, but I'm pretty pissed off. The truth is, this "poem" was written not by Dr. Angelou but by me, and published under my byline in Glamour Magazine as May 1997's Glamour List column - a column I originated and still cowrite.

So how did Maya Angelou get credit? Search me. When the list first started making the rounds on the web, it was circulated anonymously, and in 1999 was included in a Rutgers University catalog of famous chain letters. A few years later, San Francisco book packager Caroline Herter put it together as a book -- "inspired by one of the most beloved (and ubiquitous) emails" -- published by Ten Speed Press. By that point, everyone from Hillary Clinton to Jesse Jackson had been credited with telling women they had to own cordless drills and black lace bras.

Mary Schmich, the Chicago Tribune columnist who was the true author of the infamous "Wear sunscreen" column widely attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, wrote a story about me and my Glamour piece. Get money, the ever-sensible Schmich advised me, and forget about establishing authorship in the vast and uncontrollable world of the web.

I did get a tiny bit of money, but even less credit. With Maya's Angelou's byline attached, the list seems more popular than ever. If you Google "maya angelou" AND "cordless drill," you get 2,440 hits. If you Google "pamela redmond satran" AND "cordless drill," you get 116.

I tried to write to Dr. Angelou and request that she post a disclaimer on her web site, identifying me as the author of the list and Glamour as the original publisher, but after getting the digital runaround I finally gave up. People believing that's Angelou's best poem ever, I figured, is justice enough.

Every once in a while some diligent soul manages to track me down via my web site, where I've posted the material. Just this week, a reader from Missouri wanted to know where she could buy a wall poster of the list, since Hobby Lobby was sold out. The list appears on the web sites and blogs of transgendered individuals and frugal moms, sorority girls and belly dancers, grandmas and soldiers, not just in the U.S. but around the world.

My own daughter, who lives in Paris, recently received it from the French women in her office. Did she tell them that her mother wrote it?, I asked her. No, she confessed sheepishly. Why not?

"I didn't think," she said, "that anyone would believe me."

PAMELA SATRAN is the author of the new novel, THE HOME FOR WAYWARD SUPERMODELS.

 
 
 

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