The late, famous poet and author Maya Angelou touched the lives of many especially Black women with over a dozen autobiographies, books of poetry and books of essays combined over her fifty year career span. Her most praised work was her first autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings telling the resilient story of her childhood in the South. 

Moneta Sleet, Jr./ Ebony Collection via AP Images

Tupac would probably have two words for this being brought to light — Poetic Justice.

Malaika Jabali
Sep, 12, 2017

What’s the French word for “Columbusing?”

The late Canadian poet Pierre DesRuisseaux — who once held the post as Canada’s Poet Laureate — was caught plagiarizing the work of a handful of artists, including Tupac Shakur and Maya Angelou in his 2013 book Tranches de vie.

First, artist Kathy Figueroa discovered similarities between DesRuisseaux’s “I Rise” and Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.”

A selection in Tranches de vie, translated from French, reads:

“You can wipe me from the pages of history/with your twisted falsehoods/you can drag me through the mud/but like the wind, I rise.”

Fans of acclaimed author Maya Angelou may recognize the original line: “You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies, /You may trod me in the very dirt/But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

After Figueroa shared the news with a poetry Facebook group in May, another poet, Ira Lightman began some more digging, and disclosed his findings to The Guardian over the weekend.

Lightman found that another late writer, Tupac Shakur, was a potential victim of DesRuisseaux’s crass grifting.

In Tupac’s “Sometimes I Cry,” a selection in the rap icon’s 2009 book The Rose That Grew From Concrete, he writes: “Sometimes when I’m alone/ I cry because I’m on my own/ The tears I cry are bitter and warm/ They flow with life but take no form.”

And DesRuisseuax’s version barely differs: “When I’m Alone/ Sometimes when I’m alone I cry/ Because I’m alone. / The tears I cry are bitter and burning. / They flow with life, they do not need reason.”

Lightman believes about 30 of the 50 poems in DesRuisseuax's text were based on those of other authors. 

The publisher for Transches de vie has since taken DesRuisseuax’s work off the shelves.