|Maya Angelou, the master of great prose and wisdom receiving the medal of freedom and a kiss from President Obama. Pic thanks to CS Monitor|
Maya Angelou (1928-2014) a prolific American poet, author and Civil Rights activist has left our world this morning. She is renowned in the US and the world over for prose and creative story telling of the joys, successes , plights and tribulations of African Americans and Africa, recalling the tales of her own life in a unique perspective and narrative spanning time and space. Her name can be found on many libraries across the country and schools. Her often calm and soft spoken recitations of poetry and writings no matter if it is spoken in front of a crowd or an interview is recognized even by school children today. Among her greatest works is I know Why the Caged Birds Sing, seven volume autobiographical series on her life up to 1969, two of her many well known poems, And Still I rise and On the Pulse of Morning. The latter poem On the Pulse of Morning was read by Angelou at former President Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993. She was the African American woman of prose to read at a presidential inauguration. She also the second poet to read at an inauguration, the first being Robert Frost who recited his poem "Dedication," from memory when the sun's glare blocked his prepared poetic speech at the podium during the late President John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961.
Regarded as a daughter of the South, Angelou moved across several regions of the United States before spending her later years in North Carolina. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri and later raised in Stamps, Arkanasas by grandparents. Missouri and Arkansas is colloquially called the Ozarks named after the Ozarks Mountains. As a child growing up in the Ozarks, she faced discrimination and racism on a lesser but no less tense scale compared to the overt, apartheid like conditions children her age faced growing up in the South at the same time. The young Angelou didn't fully understand the white/black clashes and institutionalized racism aimed at African Americans. Nevertheless, she did become aware of the unfair and brutal treatment aimed at her and the people in her teenage years and onward. Her prose and autobiographies parallel her life journey from the Ozarks to California in her teenage years to becoming an exotic dancer able to tour abroad, to relocating to Ghana in 1960 where she met Malcolm X and saw decolonization firsthand in Ghana and became an outspoken writer involved in human rights and liberation movement. It is worth mentioning that many of Angelou's contemporaries Malcolm, MLK, WEB Dubois, etc were in Ghana and toured other African countries during the 1960 independence months as European colonialists physically left most of West Africa but remain economically, linguistically and now indirectly. Angelou understood the connection between the human rights and dignity struggle for African peoples as well as mistreated people on the mother continent, in the US and Caribbean. She never shied away from reminding her readers and admirers of the lesser beautiful and realistic portrayals of our complex world. Her many travels featured in various stories, poems and plays, introduced many Americans of multiple generations to the complicated world inside and outside of America's borders. In homage to her prose and activism, she was awarded the medal of freedom by President Barack Obama. The brief meeting between the renown poet and first African American president could be understood by younger generation. Reminding active until the very end, Angelou was also a prolific artist who also acted and directed in various movies as a caring grandmotherly figure or strong woman. In later years, she is most remembered for her advice on life and love to younger audiences and admirers alike. A teacher with an extraordinary viewpoint and who is still revered today, she will be greatly missed but never forgotten. She leave behind many quotes from her writings that can be found in libraries, movies, aspiring artists and online.