They Believed: Maya Angelou’s ‘On the Pulse of Morning’

When Maya Angelou stepped to the podium on a cold January day in 1993, she became the first African American and the first woman to offer an inaugural poem.

Elizabeth Alexander
Elizabeth Alexander
Courtesy of the author

And what a poem it was.

“On the Pulse of Morning” garnered immediate praise for its sweeping portrait of American history and wisdom.

Elizabeth Alexander remembers that moment — and contrasts it with her own time on the same stage — on MPR News with Kerri Miller, in the first installment of an occasional series, “They Believed.”

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

At this pivotal moment in U.S. history, we want to look back at the words of America’s firebrands, visionaries and truth-tellers. What do they reveal about who we were then – and who we are now?


Elizabeth Alexander is a poet and scholar. She currently leads The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.