When the greatest minds in history are read from whatever list they are on one name will ring in such a precious tone that it may be confused with music. Maya is a name found the world over with many different means but to those that have know of Maya Angelou it means only one thing. Phenomenal. Born Margueritte Ann Johnson, she is was author and language artist who has achieved nearly every measure of professional success but told Time last year that she still had more to do. “I want to write so that the the reader in Des Moines, Iowa, Kowloon, China, in Cape Town, South Africa, in Ireland, in Boston, can say ‘That’s is truth.I wasn’t there, I wasn’t a six foot black girl but that’s the truth. That’s human.”
In hearing her perspective on her work, and language her motivations become clear. Dr. Angelou had not prioritized fame or achievement but connection. On Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday program she says that the word she turns to for comfort is “Love. … It may be the thing that keeps the stars in the firmament… It is something beyond explanations.” It is as if be virtue of habit she speaks in poetry. Her words slip gracefully from her lips in interview and readings alike. Maya spoke in plain language, but with profound feeling, passion, and insight.
This desire from connection perhaps, come from her humble childhood in Stamps, Arkansas as depicted in her first of seven autobiographies, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. It is only by grace of her indomitable spirit that she become a Pulitzer prize nominee, acclaimed dancer, musician, and holder of several awards and honorary doctorates. Her life is a testament to what one can do when applying all their gives to the world.
Angelou was not much for withholding, her career spanned over 50 years. She performed in off-broadway shows, sang and recorded music while she travelled, and learned the language of every place she visited. There was nothing she could not do, and certainly nothing she could not do with Christ on her side. Faith was a big part of her persona, and image. In the 60s she was named Northern Coordinator for the Souther Christian Leadership Conference. She was a student of Unity Church in Kansas City, Missouri and was forever in awe of the wonder’s of the world as creations of God. She maintained a constant reverence for her creator and has been quoted as saying “While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.”
There have truly been no limits to her impact. In the 60s she worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X as a civil rights activist. In the 70s she wrote songs for Roberta Flack and became close friends with Oprah Winfrey. Still continuing to speak out about racial and gender issues her voice and work became known as definitive works in civil rights. In 1982 Dr. Angelou became a professor of American Studies at Wake-Forest University. And in 1993 she recited the now famous “On The Pulse Of The Morning” poem at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. She later won a Grammy for the recording of that piece. Her political activity included support for Hilary Clinton and President Barack Obama. Angelou was the first poet to speak at a presidential inauguration since Robert Frost and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ceremony.
Maya Angelou is one of those figures that must be herald with the brightest of humanity. And yet, it could be imagined that she would hoist herself no higher than any other. Her grace and work will live forever and continues to inspire young generations of writers with ambitions of following in her footsteps.
Rest in peace.
April 4th, 1928 ~ May 28th, 2014