When Wake Forest University released the breaking news on May 28, 2014, that acclaimed poet and author Maya Angelou passed away at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, anyone who’d been uplifted and encouraged by her lifetime of writing paused to reflect and give thanks for her life. Born into the world in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928, as Marguerite Johnson, Maya Angelou created her own name, of her choice, as the first in a series of steps toward helping find a way out of pain.
She was destined to become a beloved citizen, rather than just another celebrity, because the world craved every gift that she brought, to any group of people who heard her words. She was a teacher, an example of faith, and a most gracious friend to all who were fortunate enough to know her personally.
If you know only one work of Dr. Angelou’s, it is likely her 1969 book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” an autobiographical work that describes her journey from an infinitely unfair and painful childhood to the point that she fell in love with “the great works” of great writers and found her freedom. Years later she wrote “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now,” and inspired even more who would come to find her as a great resource of courage and strength. As a leader in civil rights, she showed others the way, with courage. Her complete writing works are worthy of scholars’ descriptions and students’ learning as part of “the most important words they could ever hope to read.”
As CBS news reported (see preceding link), when Dr. Angelou was offered the opportunity to create a line of greeting cards for Hallmark, she consulted her editor at Random House, who was less than enthusiastic about how that might impact her reputation. Her memories of her consideration of the Hallmark offer were vintage Angelou: “And I thought, if I’m the people’s poet, then I ought to be in the people’s hands—and I hope in their hearts. So I thought, ‘Hmm, I’ll do it.’” Those of us who’ve purchased many of those cards are grateful that she did.
ABC News graciously encapsulated some of Angelou’s most memorable quotes. As you read these, each one is a dear friend, because you’ve likely recalled them before in times of trial, because it’s in those times that you search for answers from others whose lives serve as inspiration, of hope, of joy, and of caring for others in a way that rises above the rest of the world.
If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love."
"The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free."
"I'm a woman Phenomenally."
"Nothing can dim the light which shines from within."
"Nothing will work unless you do."
"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain."
"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances."
"While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated."
"My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return."
In days to come, most certainly her dear friend Oprah Winfrey will find time and strength to take part in creating what will be a most fitting salute to her mentor, guide and friend. In hours to come, expect to read messages of remembrance from President Bill Clinton, for whom she became only the second poet to present a message at an inauguration. The accompanying video is Dr. Angelou’s reading of “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration, courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.
Dr. Angelou’s last public statement was her Tweet on May 23, ‘Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God,’ and today that thought became reality. Hers was a light that shone brightly, and will continue to, for generations to come. Her life and works live on forever, in hard copies on library shelves, on sale in bookstores everywhere and shared across the Internet.
Respect for her work encompasses international appreciation. She lives on in our lives, forever, as we all hold fast to memories of her grace. She remains emblazoned in our hearts as a woman whose gifts of faith, hope and love made us all better by her example. Rest in peace, Dr. Maya Angelou, and may God bless you and all whom you love for inspiring us on our journey.