“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou
Renowned poet and civil rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou was found dead this morning. The award winning author was 86 years old and had apparently been in ill health for some time now.
She’d written numerous plays, film scripts, poetry collections and autobiographies as well as receiving multiple awards and honorary doctorates. She was also a strong-willed civil rights activist and we have lost an incredible woman today. One of my favourite books of hers is called Halleujah! The Welcome Table, a collection of anecdotes and family recipes and it shows how and why despite a traumatic childhood, featuring abuse and racial discrimination, she absorbed the unshakable faith and values of community, family, and a deep love of the arts.
She was elective mute for years following sexual abuse and the subsequent death of that abuser. She had become scared, believing, as she said, “I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone…”. It was during those years discovered her passion for reading and the written word. It was this love that would cause her to become the writer known as “the black woman’s poet laureate”.
In 1981 she became the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where she lived until her death. She called herself “a teacher who writes”. Angelou taught a variety of subjects including philosophy, ethics, theology, science, theater, and writing, all of which reflected her interests and passions.
Throughout her life she was not only a writer, she was also a dancer, a fry cook, prostitute, mother, singer, producer, professor and lecturer. She worked closely with Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. and in 1993 become the first poet to recite at a presidential inauguration since Robert Frost did in 1961.
She was an inspiration to many, as an author, feminist, teacher, and phenomenal woman. A song has been flung up to Heaven today.
Since I first came across her writing she has been one of my favourite poets. Her words have changed so many lives and touched so many people. And she will be deeply missed. And I will finish this leaving you with my favourite of her poems.
Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.