Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This maybe true for most of us–most of us are simply memorable for the feelings we evoke in others–but Angelou herself is memorable in every way. What she did. What she said. How she made people feel.
A friend gave me a copy of her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when I was attending a stifling suburban junior high. That was almost twenty-five years ago, but I can still vividly remember the gorgeous prose and the eye-opening chronicle of Angelou suffering racism, including a terrifying encounter with the Ku Klux Klan, and being raped at age eight and then going on to become a seventeen-year-old mother and San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one of more than thirty bestselling titles by Angelou. Beyond memoir, she also penned poetry and fiction. She wrote the screenplay and composed the score for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia, and her script, the first by an African American woman ever to be filmed, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Angelou studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey on television variety shows, and recorded her first album in 1957. As a civil rights activist, she worked with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. She lived in Ghana where she taught at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama and worked as feature editor for The African Review. In her lifetime, she received over fifty honorary degrees.
Maya Angelou has passed away. She was found deceased this morning, May 28, by her caretaker.