Maya Angelou has died

Maya Angelou — writer, poet, activist, and so much more — has died. She was 86.

I had the honor of meeting Angelou once, at the annual dinner of the Children’s Defense Fund, where I once worked.  She was seated at a table, so I walked over to introduce myself, and she immediately asked “are you Greek?” I said, yes. She replied, “me too!”

I gave her a bit of a funny look, as I was pretty sure Greece didn’t have too many black people.

She laughed and told me her husband, ex-husband, was Greek, and she kept the name.

She really did have a presence, a larger-than-life bubble around her that I’ve found many a great people have (though not all). It’s not a bad thing, by any means — it’s an aura of greatness; a certain stature, confidence, solidity. Marian Wright Edelman, my then-boss at CDF has the bubble. Ted Kennedy had it too. As does Hillary, to a degree. (Though I, oddly, didn’t sense it around her husband, President Clinton. Nor did I sense it around President Obama — Michelle, however, has a mini-bubble, though a very warm and welcoming one).

I’ve decided it might be worthwhile to post the “best of” tributes to Angelou online.

Let’s start with the NYT:

Maya Angelou, the memoirist and poet whose landmark book of 1969, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” — which describes in lyrical, unsparing prose her childhood in the Jim Crow South — was among the first autobiographies by a 20th-century black woman to reach a wide general readership, died on Wednesday in her home. She was 86 and lived in Winston-Salem, N.C….

Throughout her writing, Ms. Angelou (pronounced AHN-zhe-lo) explored the concepts of personal identity and resilience through the multifaceted lens of race, sex, family, community and the collective past. As a whole, her work offered a cleareyed examination of the ways in which the socially marginalizing forces of racism and sexism played out at the level of the individual.

“If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat,” Ms. Angelou wrote in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Hallmarks of Ms. Angelou’s prose style included a directness of voice that recalls African-American oral tradition and gives her work the quality of testimony. She was also intimately concerned with sensation, describing the world around her — be it Arkansas, San Francisco or the foreign cities in which she lived — with palpable feeling for its sights, sounds and smells.

Washington Post:

“She brought an understanding of the dilemmas and dangers and exhilarations of black womanhood more to the fore than almost any autobiographer before her time,” said Arnold Rampersad, a literary critic and professor emeritus of English at Stanford University. “She challenged assumptions about what was possible for a poor black girl from the South, and she emerged as a figure of courage, honesty and grace.”

Maya Angelou, presenting her poem, “On the pulse of the morning,” at President Clinton’s first inauguration:

Sesame Street shared its condolences:


And a reminder of how much she had accomplished:by-default-2014-05-28-at-12.48.17-PM

Maya Angelou writes about her mother, in the Guardian.

Maya Angelou, “And still I rise”:

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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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20 Responses to “Maya Angelou has died”

  1. jasonhobbs828 says:

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  2. Bill_Perdue says:

    As political and especially class polarization deepens the right will attempt to deflect it with using the deeply ingrained racism, misogyny, homohating and immigrant bashing that define American politics.

    It’s not so much the age of the troll as it is the age of the reemerging fascist. Angelou fought that all her life.

  3. john todd says:

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  5. 4th Turning says:

    Agree. Met both Bill and Al in ’98. Al had “it” then, too.

  6. 4th Turning says:

    Had lunch today in Winston. Felt her presence. She could’ve lived anywhere-this was home.

  7. Tor says:

    She had the voice. Her voice. What a wonderful voice.

  8. BeminDC says:

    Bill’s got it — have met him twice — hugely charismatic and a bigger than life presence. I remember my Republican boss drooling all over himself after he met him in the mid-90s, even though he was a Dole supporter.

  9. LanceThruster says:

    I remember being introduced to her as a child from watching PBS.

    Such a fascinating character.

    Still I Rise

    You may write me down in history
    With your bitter, twisted lies,
    You may trod 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 backyard.

    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
    I rise
    Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
    I rise
    I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
    Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

    Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
    I rise
    Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
    I rise
    Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
    I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
    I rise
    I rise
    I rise.

  10. S1AMER says:

    You’re right about the “bubble” business, John, though I’m not sure that “bubble” is quite the word. Whatever the correct term is, I’ve also noticed that some people have it. It’s like they’re ten feet tall, even when you’re standing next to them at eye level. It’s extraordinary, that something special.

    Anyhow, though I never met her, I have no doubt Maya Angelou had that quality about her. She was an extraordinary woman, in so many ways.

    Anyone who hasn’t read the statement from Obama, please do. It’s quite good.

  11. BeccaM says:

    Maya was the kind of human being we should all aspire to be.

  12. BeccaM says:

    We seem to have entered a phase in American (and worldwide) culture where “ugly, horrible, and hateful” is actually popular in some circles.

    However, it’s worth noting that some of these over-the-top jerks are posting their hate precisely for the purpose of drawing an aggrieved reaction. They’re feeding off the negativity.

  13. cole3244 says:

    rip maya its just too bad america couldn’t have been a more tolerant nation for you to see and remember.

  14. Badgerite says:

    It will. Kicking and screaming all the way. But it will. When she says , “And still I rise”, my inner feeling is, “I wouldn’t bet against it”.

  15. PeteWa says:

    “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

    Maya Angelou

  16. PeteWa says:

    what a wonderful human… she will be missed.

  17. Indigo says:

    There was so much to her that was delightful. American Literature classes have their work cut out, reviewing and assessing appreciating all that she thought and wrote. May our national memory of her be always both respectful and delighted by her wit and insight and may she rest in peace.

  18. Really? Yikes. Yes, but the Internet is an awful place. I have to keep telling myself not to judge all humanity by its more wired brethren. I like to think, hope, that the few who enjoy the anonymity, or at least impersonality, of the Internet to unleash their inner jerk, are not representative. I keep telling myself that :)

  19. Elijah Shalis says:

    You should read the racist comments on the CNN article or cbs local channel sites. I have serious doubt whether this country is going to move forward.

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