The world lost a great woman last week on May 28th when Maya Angelou died in her home in Winston-Salem, N.C. She was considered one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. She had so many roles in her life; celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress historian, filmmaker and civil rights activist. She was also a singer and dancer and toured Europe in the opera Porgy and Bess. A great student of leadership and the creative process, she knew it took courage to lead and had close contact with some of the most well-known world leaders of her times. She said about leadership: “A leader sees greatness in other people. He nor she can be much of a leader if all she sees is herself.”
Trisha LaNae’ asked her “How does one serve in that capacity without serving into their own ego when one has acquired your level of success?”
Maya Angelou answered: “I realized that I didn’t get here by myself. I am a child of God and that’s a blessing and because I have the blessing of God and the knowledge, I have no modesty because it is a learned adaptation. People are just fooling themselves in trying to fool other people when they say, Oh me! I’m modest. I can’t do this. I have no modesty. I have humility. Humility comes from inside out and it says, someone was here before me and someone has already paid for me. I have a responsibility to pay for someone else who is yet to come; there is no room in there for ego! I am grateful to God. I am grateful to all my people who have helped me and all the ways they’ve helped me, the teachers, preachers, rabbis and priests. Everyone that has helped me. I am grateful, and I try to help someone else often as I can.”
Years ago I read her first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It was a moving and beautiful book. She also wrote Gather Together in My Name, Swingin’ and Singin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas, and The Heart of a Woman, plus more than thirty books of poetry.
Her early life was not easy. Abused as a child, she didn’t speak for five years. But in spite of this and the racial and often brutal experiences she was exposed to in St. Louis, Missouri and Stamps Arkansas, she still maintained an unshakable faith and the values of Traditional African-American family, community and culture.
Her list of accomplishments could and have filled books. She was a brilliant woman who mastered French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. She was the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She served on two presidential committees, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, received three Grammy awards, and composed a poem that she read at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Dr. Angelou received over 50 honorary degrees and was a Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.
I went to Google to learn more about this amazing woman and while there I watched videos of her reciting poems and being interviewed. What a powerful and delightful woman, and what a wise and brave woman she was. Following are some of her quotes:
On Courage: “One isn’t born with courage. One develops it. And you develop it by doing small, courageous things, in the same way that one wouldn’t set out to pick up a 100 pound bag of rice. If that was one’s aim, the person would be advised to pick up a five pound bag, and then a ten pound, and then a 20 pound, and so forth, until one builds up enough muscle to actually pick up 100 pounds. And that’s the same way with courage. You develop courage by doing courageous things, small things, but things that cost you some exertion – mental and, I suppose, spiritual exertion.”
On dealing with writer’s block: There are times when I sit at that bed, on that bed, with Roget’s Thesaurus, the dictionary, and the Bible, and a playing deck of cards. I play solitaire. And sometime in a month of writing, I might use up two or three decks of bicycle cars. Giving my “little mind” something to do. I got that from my grandmother, who used to say when something would come up, and it would surprise her, she’d say sister, you know, that wasn’t even on my littlest mind. So I really thought that there was a small mind and a large mind.”
On knowing when her work is done: “I know when it’s the best I can do. It may not be the best there is. Another writer may do it much better. But I know when it’s the best I can do. I know that one of the great arts that the writer develops is the art of saying, ‘No, No, I’m finished. Bye.’ And leaving it alone. I will not write it into the ground. I will not write the life out of it. I won’t do that.”
On standing by one’s principles: “I have a certain way of being in this world, and I shall not, I shall not be moved.”
I wish is could write more and add more pictures plus more of her wise sayings, but there’s a limit and I’ve reached it. However, I hope that most of you go to Google and read all you can about her, and even morel, I hope you bring up the videos and listen to her recite her poetry – especially the one that’s the title of this blog. In my opinion, no one can recite poetry better that she can.
Are you familiar with Maya Angelou and her works?
What do you admire most about her?