On Maya Angelou


May 28, 2014

I didn’t open my eyes when I woke up. I am contemplating all the things that need to happen in the next few days.  There is a pending trip to New York, a bit more packing and getting ready for work.

My girlfriend is up on Facebook as always first thing in the morning.  As soon as I sit up she asks, “How do you feel about Maya Angelou?”

“Did she pass?” I ask.

“Yes,” she confirms, still scrolling her time line and checking her phone.

I think it’s weird to give someone that kind of news without ever looking at them.  Maybe because Maya Angelou is someone neither of us have ever met she can’t imagine any attachment.  Maybe she is reading all of the dedications I won’t find to later.

Maya Angelou’s, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sing,” was the first book I read by a black person in school, and a woman.  I remember how reading her words made me feel visible in a curriculum that all but ignored black writers, black children and our experiences.  I remember reading her account of abuse and being anchored in my own.

I’ve read all of Maya Angelou’s books.  I consider all the different lives she’s lived.  I consider reading something of hers to feel closer.  As soon as I heard the news I was sad for Oprah, before I was sad for us all.  We lost one of our great voices.  The news is too new, to make it small by celebrating that there are books left behind.  I don’t want to talk about it.  I just want to be quiet with my thoughts.

At work I’m surprised when someone finds me, the only black woman there, who everyone knows is a writer and says, “A famous black female writer died today.  I can’t remember her name right now.  Have you heard of her?”

“Maya Angelou,” I inform her seeing how people can be worlds apart.  I wonder how anyone can’t remember Maya Angelou’s name but then remember there are probably people important to her I don’t know either.  Then I’m grateful she thought enough to ask.

May 31-  In New York, I am excited to be visiting the city for the first time.  Still in between travelling I’m reading dedications and discussions about Maya Angelou.  We are all mourning in our own way.  Many friends are posting favorite poems.  I share tons of Maya Angelou quotes I rely on when faced with challenges.  There is no word on her funeral.  Westboro Church has threatened to protest.  I am also sad about people so lost they protest funerals.

I am looking forward to seeing the famous Schomburg museum.  When I get there, I am beside myself to hear from the front desk that there is a Maya Angelou display.  As we walk in, people behind us brag about driving hours to see this dedication that has been nationally advertised.  Then the woman sharing information, almost apologizes when she says that they put the display together at the last minute on hearing Angelou passed.

On display, are three pieces of paper behind a glass.  There is a black and white picture of Maya Angelou on regular paper that looks like they’d printed it off of a website.  There is “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” from the library system with all the stickers, and markings of being processed and checked out… There is no more information than I could have Googled.

I marvel at her handwriting on yellow legal paper.  Before, getting pissed off at the Schomburg for doing such a small display and advertising it as if they’d done Maya Angelou’s life and work justice.  Not to mention, the Schomburg became like the Wizard of Oz. It had been so widely praised for it’s preservation and display of black culture, it was more than disappointing to find only two poor displays.  Then there was nothing on the Harlem Renaissance, which was unimaginable considering it was once the poetry spot for people like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.  The Maya Angelou display was one more strike against it.

A jewel had left us and they’d thrown together her farewell honor.  I felt she deserved more, but then again, could any presentation capture and reflect her? Could any presentation soothe or even touch the absence of her walking among us? Now that I am reflecting on the words in those letters between Angelou and Malcolm X or her and James Baldwin… I am grateful for those three pieces of paper…  Maybe nothing would have been enough and in accepting that I can appreciate what was, what is…  I have reflected on those letters and words so often since reading them, for me, maybe they were enough.

I needed to hear one of the greatest writers of our time say she was struggling to create.  So that I could reflect on her perspective then and what she finally accomplished.  It was inspiration to say the least.  I am still meditating on those letters and her life.


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