Maya Angelou dies: Appreciation by her friend Margaret Busby

‘It is out of death that life comes,’ said Maya

“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.”

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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

 

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