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Maya Angelou, Poet, Activist And Singular Storyteller, Dies At 86

Poet, performer and political activist Maya Angelou has died after a long illness at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C.

She was 86. Born in St. Louis in 1928, Angelou grew up in a segregated society that she worked to change during the civil rights era. Angelou, who refused to speak for much of her childhood, revealed the scars of her past in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of a series of memoirs.

By Lynn Neary

Growing up in St. Louis, Mo., and Stamps, Ark., she was Marguerite Johnson. It was her brother who first called her Maya, and the name stuck. Later she added the Angelou, a version of her first husband’s name.

Angelou left a troubled childhood and the segregated world of Arkansas behind and began a career as a dancer and singer. She toured Europe in the1950s with a production of Porgy and Bess, studied dance with Martha Graham and performed with Alvin Ailey on television.

In 1957 she recorded an album called “Calypso Lady.”

“I was known as Miss Calypso, and when I’d forget the lyric, I would tell the audience, ‘I seem to have forgotten the lyric. Now I will dance.’ And I would move around a bit,” she recalled with a laugh during a 2008 interview with NPR.

“She really believed that life was a banquet,” says Patrik Henry Bass, an editor at Essence Magazine. When he read Angelou’s memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, he saw parallels in his own life in a small town in North Carolina. He says everyone in the African-American community looked up to her; she was a celebrity but she was one of them. He remembers seeing her on television and hearing her speak.

“When we think of her, we often think about her books, of course, and her poems,” he says. “But in the African-American community, certainly, we heard so much of her work recited, so I think about her voice. You would hear that voice, and that voice would capture a humanity, and that voice would calm you in so many ways through some of the most significant challenges.”

Film director John Singleton grew up in a very different part of the country. But he remembers the effect Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” had on him as a kid. It begins:

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.

“I come from South Central Los Angeles,” he says. It’s “a place where we learn to puff up our chests to make ourselves bigger than we are because we have so many forces knocking us down — including some of our own. And so that poem … it pumps me up, you know. … It makes me feel better about myself, or at least made me feel better about myself when I was young.”

Singleton used Angelou’s poems in his 1993 film Poetic Justice. Angelou also had a small part in the movie. Singleton says he thinks of Angelou as a griot — a traditional African storyteller.

“We all have that one or two people in our families that just can spin a yarn, that has a whole lot to say, and holds a lot of wisdom from walking through the world and experiencing different things,” he says.

“And that’s the way I see Dr. Maya Angelou. She was a contemporary of Martin Luther King, a contemporary of Malcolm X and Oprah Winfrey. She transcends so many different generations of African-American culture that have affected all of us.”

Joanne Braxton, a professor at the College of William and Mary, says Angelou’s willingness to reveal the sexual abuse she suffered as a child in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was unprecedented at the time. The critical acclaim and popularity of the book opened doors for both African-American and female writers.

“Maya Angelou brought about a paradigm shift in American literature and culture,” Braxton says, “so that the works, the gifts, the talents of women writers, including women writers of color, could be brought to the foreground and appreciated. She created an audience by her stunning example.”

For Braxton, the world will never be quite the same without Angelou.

“I love her,” she says. “She’s beloved by many, including many, many people who have never met her in person, and who will never meet her in person — but she has extended herself that way, so that her touch extends beyond her physical embrace. That is truly a gift, and we are truly blessed to have known her through her presence and her work.”

Angelou once said she believed that “life loves the liver of it,” and she did live it, to the fullest.

 

Maya Angelou, Poet, Activist And Singular Storyteller, Dies At 86

Through The Eyes of the World: Maya Angelou from Muhammad Ali

“I used to listen to Joe Louis fight on the radio when I was young. It was so important to hear how some black mother’s and father’s son was the champion of the world…

To hear Muhammad Ali on the radio and on television, that was just amazing.

Sometimes he was called “the mouth“, but he was so wonderful to look at and great to listen to.

His poetry always made me laugh…He was a man who made an immediate impact on my life, because he was at once so big and so gentle.

He was very strong, but he also was very gentle and had a wonderful sense of humour.
You have to be intelligent to have a sense of humour, so I knew then Muhammad Ali – as powerful as he was – also had a sense of humour.

I loved that. I never trust people who don’t laugh, and I trusted him immediately.
When I met him back in Ghana, he was very young – it was 40 years ago!

We had a good talk, and it wasn’t competitive, combative conversation. I keep the memory of that meal very precious to me. I’ve not even written about it.”
Maya Angelou from Muhammad Ali: Through The Eyes of the World.
We honor the friendship Maya Angelou and Muhammad Ali had and our hearts and prayers go out to the family and the world who is experiencing this indescribable loss.

We are grateful for the full and impactful life lived of the great Muhammad Ali.
The Angelou Johnson Family.

See More

Maya Angelou's photo.

12 years ago I met the great Mohammad Ali in his house! He kept joking with me by pulling my hair from behind while we were taking the photo 🙂

I remember that day well. I was very emotional seeing and learning how a great fighter can fight a bad disease like Parkinson’s.

That day I told my professor Dr. Jerry Peters that I will go to Medical school and join people in their daily fights.

Sometimes I miss my clinical days in which I was involved in fighting diseases and pain.

I am currently fighting battles that do not have rules nor science in them but I know that these battles are ultimately preventing or reliving people’s pain and suffering!
RIP ‪#‎MohammadAli‬ I promise that I will keep fighting!

Sami Hourani's photo.

101 Poetry Night

These are excerpts of a few poems delivered during the sessions

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through his bars of rage
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill for
The caged bird sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou – “I know why the Caged Bird Sings

From “Variations on the Word Sleep” by Margaret Atwood:

“I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
and that necessary.”

Art by: Meghan Howland

The two years
You were my lover
Are the two most important pages
In the book of modern love.
All the pages before and after
Were blank.
These pages
Are the lines of the equator
Passing between your lips and mine
They are the measures of time
That are used
To set the clocks of the world.

Nizar Qabbani
One Hundred Love Letters, Number 14

iPoetry.info's photo.

If you ever wake up forgetting,
I’ll let you eat
the sun whole; I’ll
turn myself into
a mirror
so you can see
all the light
that cracks out of
you.

A.Y. // a promise for the morning

Art by: Eugenia Loli

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.

Gibran Khalil Gibran

Become controversy.
Become the noise.
Cut through the politeness
of normalcy.

They demand that
you blend into the wall,
but darling,
you have always been
the masterpiece upon it.
Noor Shirazie

Art by: Weekend Hashtag Project

“Addiction is tricky.

For example: a man who quit smoking for 11 years spent 15 seconds in an elevator with a man smoking a cigarette. He gave in.

What I’m trying to say is I think I love you again.”

Sculpture by David Altmejd

By Nayyirah Waheed

iPoetry.info's photo.

Meet our guest poet for March’s poetry night!

Originally from Ras el Maten- Lebanon, Jana Bou Reslan is a doctoral candidate of Leadership in Higher Education at Saint Louis University, Missouri (May 2016).

She has been an instructor of the English Language and Education at several private universities in Lebanon.

She is the founder of iPoetry.info, an interdisciplinary project that advocates freedom of expression through retreats in nature, poetry workshops, and the website: iPoetry.info.

The project idea was first presented in TEDxBeirut 2012. Jana is currently the chairperson of English and Translation Department at AUST.

After earning her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education with Minors in Arabic and English languages, as well as an MBA from AUB & LAU, she has worked as an elementary and middle school English teacher for 5 years before turning into research and teaching at universities in 2010.

She will be joining us to share her experiences in the literary world, and perform poetry in both Arabic and English. Be sure not to miss it!

 


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