“What a woman!” “A very special lady, the original.” Since the hard-to-believe news of the death of Maya Angelou, people who did not know her personally have been sharing thoughts with me as a small measure of the connection she made, through her words as well as her presence.
The experiences she survived were painful enough to have engendered permanent bitterness or self-pity in most, yet Maya exuded positivity and a celebration of life. Typical of her capacity for optimism, when she autographed a book, the inscription often contained the exclamation “Joy!”
She took strength from her grandmother, a major role model, and her mother, who instilled in her a self-confidence in the face of adversity, as well as from a stalwart band of sister-friends.
In turn, Maya was an inspiration to black women everywhere. That she graciously allowed her seminal poem “And still I Rise” to be echoed in the title of Doreen Lawrence’s autobiography was typical. Men, too, related strongly to her. As writer/broadcaster Marc Wadsworth says: “Maya’s autobiographies and poems inspired me as a young black man looking for an incisive answer to questions of racism, black politics and culture and the role of black women in feminism.”
Standing six feet tall, she seemed invincible in her youth. But she had her insecurities, as I found when I interviewed her 20 years ago, before her memoirs dealing with the deaths of Martin Luther King Jnr and Malcolm X, and her relationship with her mother. “The way I deal with any pain is to admit it – let it come. It is out of death that life comes,” she said
A meal with her meant wisdom imparted along with the wine, a tear as well as a laugh. And always a song, that could as easily be Bessie Smith’s “Gimme a Pigfoot (and a gallon of gin, Baby cos I’m in my sin)” as “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”.
Margaret Busby is an editor and writer who was a friend of Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou with her book, 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings', in 1971 AP Maya Angelou in Washington in 1992 AP Maya Angelou delivers a speech in 1995 EPA Maya Angelou smiles during an interview in 2005 AP Maya Angelou speaks during the 9th Annual Maya Angelou Women Who Lead Luncheon in 2011 AP Maya Angelou with President Barack Obama in 2011 AP
Maya Angelou: In her own words
Maya Angelou: In her own words
'There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth'
'Segregation shaped me, and education liberated me'
'Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible'
'Good done anywhere is good done everywhere'
'At 15 life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honourable as resistance, especially if one had no choice'
'Until blacks and whites see each other as brother and sister, we will not have parity. It’s very clear'
Maya Angelou with her book, 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings', in 1971
Maya Angelou in Washington in 1992
Maya Angelou delivers a speech in 1995
Maya Angelou smiles during an interview in 2005
Maya Angelou speaks during the 9th Annual Maya Angelou Women Who Lead Luncheon in 2011
Maya Angelou with President Barack Obama in 2011