This morning started like every other morning. I woke up, got dressed and ready for the day, and opened up my twitter and Facebook feeds to see what went on while I was sleeping. Then I saw a tweet from LeAnn Rimes (the country singer) about Maya Angelou’s death. As more and more tweets and Facebook posts poured in as tributes to this woman who had a wonderful way with words, I thought back to October 2nd, 2012. That was the day my mom took me to see Maya Angelou give a lecture at the forum in Harrisburg,PA. The following is from the entry I wrote the week after I saw her:
last week, my mom and i went and saw maya angelou speak in harrisburg! it was such an honor to be able to hear her speak! she’s a literary legend. i didn’t get to meet her, but it was so neat to just be able to see her live and in person. my mom said she looked like she could not see well (she was wearing dark glasses). the main theme of her lecture was being a rainbow in someone else’s life. it was so beautiful. she was so inspirational. she overcame so many obstacles in her life (racism, rape, teen motherhood, and so much more). mom tried to get a few pictures, but she was hidden by plants. it’s okay though; i’ll find one online. there’s just something special about maya angelou. i remember watching her as a little girl on sesame street…and i thought there was something special about her even then. in another sketch (which is not on youtube yet), big bird and maya are playing with a group of kids. big bird introduced maya as “dr. maya angelou,” and i remember asking my mom, “why do they call her doctor? she’s not a doctor!” at that time, i didn’t know that it was possible for people to be called “doctor” if they had a PhD; i just thought of a doctor as a medical doctor. eventually, i figured it out when i was older, but back then, i had no clue.
Since this is a writing blog, I wanted to also talk about the influence Maya Angelou had on my writing. Aside from Sesame Street, the only time I ever saw her on tv was on awards shows and talk shows. When she started putting quotations on journals, photo frames, and other things (her collection was called “life mosaic”), I bought some of the journals and a photo album. The photo album remains blank, but I used the journal during my freshman year of high school. I didn’t read her books until my junior year of high school, but I had read her poetry. When we were allowed to pick a book for my English class for an assignment, I picked I know why the caged bird sings. It spoke to me as I learned about Maya’s trials and tribulations as she grew up in the American south (Arkansas, St.,Louis, and San Francisco) and witnessed things like racism, poverty, sexual abuse, teen motherhood, and more. During her lecture that I attended, Maya spoke about the many rainbows in her life. She compared rainbows to people who helped her out when she needed it. But she also used rainbows to describe poetry.
In Genesis, we’re told that it rained unrelentingly and people thought it would never cease. And in an attempt to put people at ease, God put a rainbow in the sky. Well, in the 19th century, some African-American poet, probably a woman, said God put a rainbow not just in the sky, but in the clouds . . . because if the rainbow is in the cloud itself, the viewer can see the possibility of release, of hope. Poetry to me is a rainbow in the clouds.
Maya Angelou will be dearly missed by her friends, family and loved ones, readers, and fans around the world. While she is gone, Heaven has now gained the most beautiful rainbow in the clouds with her presence. RIP, Maya Angelou.