I shipped these two Maya Angelou books to Lesotho so I can have time to really savor them, to really cherish their words.
During my teenage years, my adoptive mother and I regularly got into nasty arguments over nonsense.
I’d always end up running upstairs to my room and she’d remain downstairs hurling her venomous verbal vomit.
“You ain’t never gonna be shit you ugly little bitch!” she’d yell. “All you’ll ever be good for is a good fuck!”
Infuriated, I’d storm out of my room and launch my own war of words.
“You may write me down in history with your bitter twisted lies!” I’d scream while swiveling my neck. “You may trod me in the very dirt but still like dust I’LL RISE!!!!!”
I didn’t need to say anything else. Those lines from Maya Angelou’s famous poem sufficed.
That’s why I’m deeply saddened by the literary legend’s recent death at 86 years-old.
Angelo lived one hell of a life, wore many hats and was everything to everyone.
The St. Louis native was a civil rights activist, writer, teacher, actress, journalist, singer, director, madam, prostitute, television producer, professor and teacher. She did it all.
And she knew everybody. Angelou worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to fight for civil rights. And she was good friends with other famed writers like James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni.
Naturally, Angelou gave black people, especially black women, a vibrant voice, even when she silenced her own after her mother’s boyfriend raped her when she was only 8 years-old. Angelou gave us a reason to smile and more importantly, the affirmation that we lacked absolutely nothing. No thing!
I found a sense of myself—and my own voice--in her work, which was often rich, raw and multidimensional. Every black woman writer, self included, owes their entire career to Angelou.
The Pulitzer nominee also contributed many gifts to the world, to humanity. She had extensively traveled the globe, spoke six languages and was courageous enough to fall in and out of love. In short, she lived life well and on her own terms, and gave us all permission to do the same.
She showed me how to live my life, too. Simply gave me permission to just be.
As a young adult, I’d always keep Angelou’s book of poems “And Still I Rise” on my nightstand. I regularly read the poetry because in my early to mid-20s, I came to understand Angelou’s words. I was living a lot of what she wrote about: self-acceptance, love, pain, beauty and resilience.
Angelou still influences me, even as a Peace Corps volunteer in southern Africa. I shipped two of Angelou’s books (“The Heart of a Woman” and “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now”) to Lesotho so I can take the time to really savor the tomes. I did and again, I soaked up the Medal of Freedom winner’s life stories and grandmotherly advice.
Maya Angelou gave the world eight decades of grace, humility, compassion and love.
May she forever rest in power and more importantly, in peace.
I am forever grateful for her life and her legacy, her work and her words. They were words that I used to fight with. Were words I used to hoist myself up from the depths of despair. Words that ended up blanketing me with the warmth and the comfort that only a ‘Phenomenal Woman’ can give.