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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I write because Maya Angelou said I could

Today I woke to the news that Dr. Maya Angelou had passed away. I cried as if I'd just lost a family member. In a way, I have.
When I was a little girl, the first book I read by a black woman was I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.  My mother brought that book home and I devoured it.
And I wondered if I could write about my life — granted, I didn't experience anything that Maya Angelou had. But she taught me that our stories are important.

She opened the door for me to love poetry.  She taught me to use my words to express my pain, my happiness, my joy, my sadness. Maya Angelou saved a lot of lives by sharing hers.

Then came the day when I actually met her. I wonder if she heard how my knees were rattling as I approached her table at Special Occasions in Winston-Salem that day. Did she know that I was having trouble breathing as I stood in the presence of greatness? In front of a woman who had given me permission to follow my dreams?
I'm sure she didn't because once we started talking, I discovered that she was a joy. I'm sure she never looked at herself as MAYA ANGELOU. And that's why I've always had a place in my heart for this woman.

From the New York Times:
Maya Angelou, the memoirist and poet whose landmark book of 1969, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” — which describes in lyrical, unsparing prose her childhood in the Jim Crow South — was among the first autobiographies by a 20th-century black woman to reach a wide general readership, died on Wednesday in her home. She was 86 and lived in Winston-Salem, N.C. Her death was confirmed by her longtime literary agent, Helen Brann. No immediate cause of death had been determined, but Ms. Brann said Ms. Angelou had been in frail health for some time and had had heart problems. As well known as she was for her memoirs, which eventually filled six volumes, Ms. Angelou very likely received her widest exposure on a chilly January day in 1993, when she delivered the inaugural poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at the swearing-in of Bill Clinton, the nation’s 42nd president, who, like Ms. Angelou, had grown up poor in rural Arkansas.

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