Maybe my fondness and love for Maya Angelou was because the poet's words always came into my life at the right moment. Her words and life story have always inspired me, my life and the life of other women I know. Everything that came out of her mouth seemed like a lesson we better listen to or understand or take to heart—like her ruminations on love in the video above. I'll always think of her inauguration poem for Bill Clinton, my love for it then and how I look back at it now as the last time I put hope in politics and politicians.
At 86 it may not be unexpected, and her health as reported this morning, had been deteriorating, but still it's a loss and it hurts.
From NPR this morning:
"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."