By Sean Tuohy
“Love is that condition in the human spirit so profound that it allows me to survive, and better than that, to thrive with passion, compassion, and style.”
In lieu of our regularly scheduled "Badass Writer of the Week," we are honoring renowned poet, author, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou as our “Heroic Writer of the Week.” Angelou died Wednesday and America lost one of the most inspiring and original voices of the 20th century.
Through her writing, Angelou brought a voice to the voiceless and shed light on the plight of African-American women in the United States. Angelou was a fighter for peace and understanding in the world. Although I was most familiar with Angelou from her 1969 autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” I always knew and respected her name and what her work represented.
"I want to write so well that a person is 30 or 40 pages in a book of mine...before she realizes she's reading.”
Marguerite Annie Johnson was born April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Mo. Her nickname was given to her by her older brother who often call his sister “my” or “mine.”
Her early years were extremely difficult because she was a young black woman growing up in Jim Crow’s South. When she was 7 years old, her mother’s boyfriend raped her, and then he was killed by an angry mob. Believing that her words had killed the man, Angelou refused to speak for many years and began writing.
Despite a rough start, Angelou didn't waste time getting her life on track. She studied dance in San Francisco, but dropped out at 14. At 16 years old, she became the first female street car driver. She returned to high school when she turned 17, and received her diploma. Weeks later she gave birth to a son.
As a single mother, Angelou worked as a waitress, but was constantly developing herself as an artist. By the mid-1950s she toured Europe as a singer and dancer and released her first album. Despite never going to college Angelou was called “doctor” by most people and she spoke six languages.
“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass.”
Angelou was friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X and built a strong bond with talk show host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who was deeply inspired by the author. In 1993, she read at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, something an author had not done since Robert Frost in 1961. Angelou also taught at universities and gave speeches the world over.
Throughout her career as an artist Angelou always tried to deliver the same message: love. She believe deeply that love had the power to change so much in this world and make it a better place for all of us. Her name will always stand out in American culture, and it will always be spoken with the utmost respect and love.
Rest in Peace, Ms. Angelou.
“Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances.”
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