When writer, author, activist and educator Maya Angelou published the first of her seven autobiographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in 1969, she was reclaiming her own coming-of-age story, a girlhood interrupted by abandonment, displacement, abuse and assault amid Jim Crow-era racism in the South. The still-inspiring narrative was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970, and out of her difficult childhood, Angelou emerged triumphant, giving even deeper credence to some of her most popular poems, “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman.” Her over 50-year, multi-hyphenated career included numerous awards and accolades—including a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize, over 50 honorary doctorates and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Now, Dr. Angelou’s incredible legacy will inspire a new generation of girls to “dream big.” This year, ahead of Black History Month, Barbie has announced that a tribute to the literary icon is the latest in its Inspiring Women Series, its doll line “dedicated to honoring historical and present-day role models who paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before,” reads a release provided to The Glow Up. Thus far, the now 3-year-old series “has paid tribute to a diverse lineup of women including Amelia Earhart, Katherine Johnson, Frida Kahlo, Rosa Parks, Sally Ride, Billie Jean King, Ella Fitzgerald, Florence Nightingale, and Susan B. Anthony—all of whom made history by making the world a better place for future generations of girls.”
“My mother, Dr. Maya Angelou, was a pioneer and an activist with an invincible spirit for justice,” Guy Johnson, Maya Angelou’s only child and the executor of her estate said in a statement. “Through her words and actions, she developed a unique ability to create deep connections with people around the world. She used to say, ‘I write from the Black perspective, but I aim for the human heart.’ I am delighted that Barbie has chosen her as one of its Inspiring Women. I hope the Barbie Maya Angelou doll will inspire new generations of teachers, writers and activists.”
More on Angelou’s inclusion in the line, from Barbie:
As part of Barbie’s 2020 commitment to the Black community, the brand pledged to spotlight more Black role models—now in 2021 and going forward, more than 50 percent of global role models featured will be Black, Indigenous and Women of Color. It knows children’s early childhood experiences shape what they imagine to be possible, so it’s important that all girls not only see themselves reflected in product and content, but to also see role models who’ve come before them.
In regard to that aforementioned reflection, Barbie’s rendering of a late-thirty-something-year-old Angelou is refreshingly evocative, featuring her warm, gap-toothed smile and a decidedly Black, non-traditional Barbie nose, as she beams from her book-lined box. As favored by its muse in the same era, the doll wears a Dutch wax-inspired floral print head wrap and floor-length dress, gold jewelry adorning the arms that hold a miniature replica of I Know the Caged Bird Sings, “so girls can be inspired by her stories through play.”
On a personal note, while the “I know why the caged Barbie sings” jokes might write themselves, as a Black woman writer who was once a Barbie-loving Black girl, the tug of nostalgia is real. So, too, is the gratitude that current generations of Black girls will see themselves better reflected in the iconic fashion doll, a pledge made by Barbie:
Diversity and inclusion must be the foundation of all that we do. We will continue to stand united in the fight against racism and dedicate resources to directly impact the Black community, such as funding through the Dream Gap Project Fund, to help remove barriers that prevent the next generation from reaching their full potential. Our efforts include a commitment to spotlight more Black role models who are female, and now, we are introducing a doll that honors Dr. Maya Angelou, author and activist who used her voice and unique writing style to connect with people and inspire generations, particularly Black women.
The Dr. Maya Angelou Inspiring Women doll is available for pre-order now (SRP: $29.99); more information is available at the Barbie website. Beginning Jan. 14, the doll will be sold in-store and online at Target to kick off this year’s celebration of Black History Month, as well as on Amazon.