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Thursday, May 29, 2014

In Memoriam: Maya Angelou

Written by Kyle Slagley

Yesterday the world lost one of the most powerful and astute voices in literature. Poet, singer, dancer, and activist Maya Angelou passed away in her North Carolina home at age 86.

Many people are familiar with Angelou at least by name, if not necessarily by having read her work. She is known as a writer whose ability to speak to readers on a deep and personal level is uncanny nearly to the point of being unsettling. Angelou’s struggles as a child in the Jim Crow south would shape her writing in later years. Her signature memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings gave insight to her struggles, having worked as a cook, nightclub dancer, prostitute, and even for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

A spokesperson for women and minority rights, Angelou’s work speaks for any group who has ever faced attempts at being silenced. Perhaps that is because Angelou herself took years to discover her own voice—literally. When she was 8 years old, her mother’s boyfriend assaulted her. When she told her brother what happened, her attacker was convicted but jailed for only one day. Four days after he was released from jail, he was found murdered. When Angelou found out, she didn’t speak again for six years, believing that her voice had killed the man. 

Fortunately for the world, Angelou found her voice and, despite the struggles she endured through the years, used her voice to speak love, acceptance, and peace to anyone who would listen, as evidenced by the fact that her words are seen in books, on billboards, in commercials, and on social media on a daily basis. Her awards, honorary titles, medals, and commendations are too numerous to name here, but I would invite you to visit her Wikipedia page for more information.

Angelou passed away at her home in Winston-Salem, NC. Fittingly, her final tweet read:

"Preacher, Don't Send Me"
by Maya Angelou

Preacher, don't send me
when I die
to some big ghetto
in the sky
where rats eat cats
of the leopard type
and Sunday brunch
is grits and tripe.

I"ve known those rats
I've seen them kill
and grits I've had
would make a hill,
or maybe a mountain,
so what I need
from you on sunday
is a different creed.

Preacher, please don't
promise me
streets of gold
and milk for free.
I stopped all milk
at four years old
and once I'm dead
I won't need gold.

I'd call a place
pure paradise
where families are loyal
and strangers are nice,
where the music is jazz
and the season is fall.
Promise me that
or nothing at all.

From The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
published 1994 by Random House

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