Posted in Our Blog on May 29, 2014
“If you have a song to sing, who are you not to open your mouth and sing to the world?”
The world lost a tremendous literary and cultural figure yesterday when Maya Angelou passed away at the age of 86. Her accomplishments in poetry, prose, and memoirs are surpassed only by the grace with which she carried herself and the force with which she lived life.
Dr. Angelou’s best-known work is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, an autobiography of her childhood and teenage years in the Jim Crow South. The book brought her to worldwide fame and acclaim, and it opened the door to mainstream literary success for an entire generation of African American women. Throughout her many poems, books, essays, plays, and speeches, the most important message Dr. Angelou communicated was how critical it is that everyone-no matter how small, poor, or marginalized-find their own voice and tell their own story.
“If you teach, you have to live your teaching,” she said, and her own life reflected the convictions of her written words. Before finding success as a writer, she dabbled in many different occupations to support herself and her son as a single mother, including stints as a streetcar conductor, singer, dancer, cook, and mechanic. She lived in many places around the country and world, and mixed with historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Her defining moment probably came in 1993, when she delivered a poem at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton.
It’s especially impressive that Dr. Angelou remained a fierce writer through the end of her life. Just last year, she released Mom & Me & Mom, a chronicle of her difficult relationship with her mother; it was a bestseller. And right until the end she was sharing her great wisdom, including her very last message on Twitter, sent out just a few days before her death.
There is no better way to celebrate the life of Maya Angelou than to engage with her works and to take seriously her words and message. “You know what’s right: Just do right,” she says, in the video embedded below. “Right may not be expedient, it may not be profitable, but it will satisfy your soul.”