While I would like nothing more than to write a lengthy, most deserved and heartfelt post dedicated to this magnificent woman, I am afraid I cannot find words powerful enough, exceptional enough, vast enough…To hold or express all that she meant to me, and indeed to the Black (and world) community.
I am reminded of the time I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at my alma mater. It was in her later years, when she no longer commanded the stage by both voice and body (she was resigned to sitting in an armchair the entire time), but that did not stop her from subtly (yet, not so subtly…) demanding attention and changing the lives of every single person in that room. From reciting Shakespearean Sonnets after a discussion on diversity in life, the arts, and being yourself no matter what, to speaking on the notion of inner & universal peace, the constant struggle for civil rights and liberties, the political state of the world, the power of the individual and the joy of learning and education, that evening, Dr. Maya Angelou taught us all what it meant to be human.
And it was then, hearing her in person for the first time that I truly understood who she was, and who I could be; that I had the power to change my life, be who I needed and wanted to be, and create a better world for and with the people around me. Despite the fact I had read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings at least five times, can recite Phenomenal Woman at the drop of a hat and am always electrified by the weight of the words in Still I Rise, over the years, Maya Angelou has taught me, and indeed, all of us, what it is to face adversity head-on with a machete in one hand and a rose in the other; how to overcome my (our) fears and come out the other side a better person. That no matter what trauma and violence and hatred we have witnessed against ourselves or any other human being, we must never be silent; we must rise.
We are losing our giants, and who will be honorable enough to rise and stand in their place? Today, on this great day of sorrow, we take a moment of silence to honor and salute you Maya Angelou. Your legacy will inspire generations to come; you changed our lives in ways that simple words cannot express, and we are forever in your debt.
“The true definition of a Warrior Queen. A very sad loss for all of Humanity.” -Anna Harwich
Yes, Anna, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
(CNN) — Maya Angelou, a renowned poet, novelist and actress whose work defied description under a simple label, has died, her literary agent, Helen Brann, said Wednesday.
She died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Brann said.
A professor, singer and dancer, among other things, Angelou’s work spans different professions. She spent her early years studying dance and drama in San Francisco, California.
After dropping out at age 14, she become the city’s first African-American female cable car conductor.
Angelou later returned to high school to finish her diploma and gave birth to her son a few weeks after graduation. While the 17-year-old single mother waited tables to support her son, she acquired a passion for music and dance. She toured Europe in the mid-1950s with “Porgy and Bess,” an opera production. In 1957, she recorded her first album, “Calypso Lady.”
In 1958, Angelou become a part of the Harlem Writers Guild in New York and also played a queen in “The Blacks,” an off-Broadway production by French dramatist Jean Genet.
Affectionately referred to as Dr. Angelou, the professor never went to college. She has more than 30 honorary degrees and taught American studies for years at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“I created myself,” she has said. “I have taught myself so much.”
Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. She grew up between St. Louis and the then-racially-segregated Stamps, Arkansas.
The famous poet got into writing after a childhood tragedy that stunned her into silence for almost a decade. When she was 7, her mother’s boyfriend raped her. He was later beaten to death by a mob after she testified against him.
“My 7-and-a-half-year-old logic deduced that my voice had killed him, so I stopped speaking for almost six years,” she said.
From the silence, a louder voice was born.
Her list of friends is as impressive as her illustrious career. Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey referred to her as “sister friend.” She counted Martin Luther King Jr., with whom she worked during the Civil Rights movement, among her friends. King was assassinated on her birthday.
Angelou spoke at least six languages, and worked as a newspaper editor in Egypt and Ghana. During that time, she wrote “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” launching the first in a series of autobiographical books.
“I want to write so well that a person is 30 or 40 pages in a book of mine … before she realizes she’s reading,” she said.
Angelou was also one of the first black women film directors. Her work on Broadway has been nominated for Tony Awards.
Before making it big, the 6-foot-tall wordsmith also worked as a cook and sang with a traveling road show. “Look where we’ve all come from … coming out of darkness, moving toward the light,” she has said. “It is a long journey, but a sweet one, bittersweet.”
CNN’s Marlena Baldacci contributed to this report