Was there anything Maya Angelou didn’t do? Anyone she didn’t know? Any significant moment of black American history from the last 86 years that passed her by?
When Joe Louis fought Primo Carnera in 1935, she was a child in Arkansas listening to the radio and wondering "if the announcer gave any thought to the fact that he was addressing as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ all the Negroes around the world who sat sweating and praying, glued to their ‘master’s voice'". In 1958 she was in Los Angeles when Billie Holiday visited her house and sang Strange Fruit. Angelou had to scold her son for interrupting to ask "What’s a pastoral scene, Miss Holiday?", but Holiday’s "scornful" answer – "it means when the crackers are killing the niggers" – reveals another historical moment.
When she was 16 Angelou became San Francisco’s first African-American streetcar conductor. Her friends included Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, she recited a poem that urged Americans "to give birth again / To the dream". In 2010 Barack Obama awarded Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor. Is it surprising to learn that her most famous poem is entitled "Phenomenal Woman"?
But it’s not her poems nor her performances that will ensure Angelou a place in American literary history, but her autobiographies, particularly the first of the seven, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings…..
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings explores the poverty and violence of racial segregation in 1930s Arkansas and relates the story of Angelou’s rape at the age of seven by a boyfriend of her mother. Angelou testified at the man's trial but he was released and kicked to death outside the courthouse. In response Angelou stopped speaking for five years, believing that her voice was a "killing machine". "When I pick up the pen to write," she told an interviewer once, "I have to scrape it across those scars to sharpen the point." Harold Bloom has spoken of her "almost unique tone" as one that "blends intimacy and detachment".
As she relates it, the turning point in Angelou’s life came when she heard her teacher, Mrs Flowers, read from Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities: "Her voice slid in and curved down through and over the words. She was nearly singing."
By the time she was 19, she had worked as a short-order cook, a prostitute, a nightclub waitress and dancer, and had a two-year-old son to support. Many more jobs and relationships followed, before she became a successful dancer, singer and actor, adapting her first husband’s name to become, finally, Maya Angelou. And that was only the start. We read of meetings with Martin Luther King, life as a journalist in Ghana and an editor in Egypt, directing plays and films, playing the part of Kunte Kinte’s grandmother in the acclaimed television adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots, romance, motherhood and inspiration.
While she eventually became a kind of one-woman industry, lending her name to all manner of inspirational souvenirs, including a series of Hallmark cards, and acting as mentor for another phenomenon, Oprah Winfrey,
Daily Mail. The caged bird who helped free the minds of racist America: Poet Maya Angelou is found dead aged 86 after final prophetic tweet
Maya Angelou was found dead by her caretaker Wednesday morning at her home in Winston-Salem North Carolina… Her son Gary B. Johnson, her only child, issued a statement about the author's death: 'Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8:00 a.m. EST. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension.
'She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.'
On Thursday - just one day after her death - her official portrait will be installed in the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington.
Angelou had been struggling with health problems in recent weeks ….She remained active, even as her health began to deteriorate. On May 23, five days before her death, she tweeted, 'Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.'
Reaction to Maya Angelou’s death is going to be broader and deeper than people realize. They’ll say she was a great writer, a teller of experience, a witness. All true. But at the end she was a mystic. A friend who saw this interview, with Oprah Winfrey, said: “She was so close to Heaven.”
Angelou said love is an invisible electric current that lights the world and everything in it, and we don’t even notice. She spoke of the shattering yet building moment when she understood for the first time that “God. Loves. Me.” “It still humbles me that this force which made the leaves and fleas and stars and rivers and you—loves me. Me, Maya Angelou. It’s amazing. I can do anything and do it well, any good thing, I can do it.”
She was not embarrassed to talk like this. She wanted you to understand what she knew; she wanted, graciously, to share it, so you’ll know the current too.
On YouTube and with Oprah The Revelation That Changed Dr. Maya Angelou's Life
Posted by Jill Fallon at May 29, 2014 11:05 AM | Permalink