“Nothing so frightens me as writing, but nothing so satisfies me. It's like a swimmer in the [English] Channel: you face the stingrays and waves and cold and grease, and finally you reach the other shore, and you put your foot on the ground – aaaahhhh!” So said the amazing Marguerite “Maya” Angelou.
Born on April 4, 1928, Angelou passed away quietly at her Winston-Salem, N.C., home on Wednesday. She was 86 years old.
She was a legendary author, renowned poet, essayist, actress, playwright, screenwriter, television writer, director, movie producer, spiritual mother., soul sister, college professor, Pulitzer Prize nominee, White House guest and activist. She worked with Malcolm X and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote the civil rights movement in the America in the 1960s. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000. She was awarded the Lincoln Medal in 2008. She personally knew U.S. presidents, heads of state and captains of industry, yet she remained as grounded and real as your next-door neighbor. She not only inspired millions of people all over the world to embrace literature and the arts, but also to make their own voices heard.
Angelou was inducted into the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. in 1983 as an honorary member.
Her books, from 1969’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to 2013’s Mom and Me and Mom – were testaments to faith, self-sufficiency and courage. Although born and raised in poverty, Angelou’s brilliance would be globally recognized and revered.
Pharrell Williams, singer/music producer/composer, said via Twitter: “Saddened by the news of Maya Angelou's passing. A brilliant woman who contributed so much to the world. Her light will be sorely missed.”
America Ferrara, actress, said via Twitter: “Maya Angelou is my hero. She gave me courage to love myself and others. Her life was a gift to so many.”
J.K. Rowling, author of the hugely successful Harry Potter books, said via Twitter: “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be. Maya Angelou - who was utterly amazing.”
Oprah Winfrey, media mogul/author/actress, said via a released statement: "What stands out to me most about Maya Angelou is not what she has done or written or spoken, it’s how she lived her life. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace. I loved her and I know she loved me. I will profoundly miss her. She will always be the rainbow in my clouds.”
President Barack Obama said via a released statement: “Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time — a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman. While Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, ‘flung up to heaven’ — and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.”
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Angelou after she spoke at Valdosta State University in 1993. I vividly recall the power of her words that night. Everyone laughed. Everyone cried. Just being in her physical proximity made you feel you do something. Be something. Create something.
Her final tweet was posted on May 23. It read, “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”
Amen. Rest in peace, Dr. Angelou. You were a phenomenal woman in every sense of the word. This world is a better place simply because you graced it with your presence.