Maya Angelou


Tchaiko Kwayana formerly Ann Cook says:

This remembrance goes back to 1962-64. It was a time when African Americans left the USA often going either to Tanzania (as Randall Robinson[TransAfrica], Vida Gaynor and son, Dennis, Bob Moses [Algebra Project] and wife, Mae Mallory, and Sister Charlotte O’Neal and husband and others) or to Ghana (Tom and Muriel Feelings, Julian Mayfield, Jim and Nannette Haralson Lacy, Carlos Austin, Leslie Lacy, Frank, the Overseer of the community, Alice Windom and her Y Hostel roommate, Maya Mackey and her son, Guy, then a teenager. Among the freedom fighters President Nkrumah welcomed was an extraordinary painter, Selby Mvusi. Maya and Alice were roommates at the Y where Guy also lived as a teenager. I was teaching in Lagos but spent all my holidays with them in Accra eating at the excellent popular Y cafeteria at lunch as Ghanaians did. I was later able to assist in getting diplomatic support in Ghana for Brother Malcolm through the High Commissioner from Nigeria to Ghana, Alhaji Isa Wali. It was an interesting 2 years. My sympathy pours out to Guy but also to her old roommate, Alice Windom of St. Louis.
Rise, Sister Maya!
Ann Cook at the time (I sent a message to her just weeks ago through my doctoral committee member, the now late Dr. Vincent Hardings, who was spending a week at Wake Forest.) Now both stalwarts, as well as Elombe Brath and Sam Greenlee made their transition at around the same period. May there be more and more that flower in our world of such need! tk

Ilda Montoya says:

To Dr. Maya Angelou’s family I want to express my condolences, for the joy Dr. Angelou shared with me, my family – indeed the world – I know her Spirit has indeed risen.

My mother, Theresa, went to high school with Marguerite Johnson (Maya Angelou) in San Francisco, performed in choirs and school plays and went to dances at the Booker T. Washington Community Center across the street from my grandparents, Mr. & Mrs Butler’s home on Baker Street. Mr. Butler, a WWII veteran, began working as a porter for the Southern Pacific Railroad along the North-South corridor from San Francisco to Chicago. Because of constant travel away from home, Mrs. Butler was a housekeeper. It was about 1945 when Theresa and Marguerite met and spent time together gossiping about boys during slumber parties. It wasn’t long before the poodle skirt fad and “Got a Penny Benny”, by the Nat King Cole Trio attracted their attention. The Mathis family lived just a few blocks down Baker Street where, at the time, mostly Colored people lived, Civil Rights wasn’t thought of, and shopping at City of Paris and other department stores was so difficult that they endured harsh criticism for their pressed hair, skin color and failed attempts at crossing the segregation threshold.

During my childhood I would see Maya Angelou periodically, mostly at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, she often responded with a smile and she would say, “I know you”. She had a tremendous influence on me, I wrote to her for many years and she frequently responded, each time I felt a renewal, a special recognition to carry on. After her book releases I stood in long lines to get her autograph, greeting me with a smile she asked about my grandmother all the while I stood mesmerized by her incredible spirit.

A family elder once taught me that the spirit never dies. A champion of social justice, a creative and intellectual hallmark, Dr. Angelou’s poetic voice will live forever. And I will never forget her. I love you Dr. Maya Angelou!

Ilda Montoya

Camille NgSaye says:

I AM A HUMAN BEING BEING. NOTHING HUMAN CAN BE ALIEN TO ME. I was born in Trinidad the most southerly island in the Caribbean. I read and watched DR. Angelou’s teachings through the videos, clips, and speeches on my phone. I read everything. I watched everything. I feel like I have lost my teacher. I tried going to our book stores but they had none of her books and I was hurt because I was thirsty for her wisdom. I wanted to tell everyone I met about what I have learnt. I got up saying in my sleep the song she sang for the commencement speech at Spelman. I listened. I made my husband listen. I posted on my Facebook. I want to share the goodness. I want to teach people about courage: the greatest of all the virtues. I want young West Indians to understand that racism divides. I want to demonstrate through my words and my actions that the curried chicken goes well with the pelau and provision and saltfish if we cook it together. Yes respecting each other’s differences. As I watched all I am addicted to her voice as I am drunken by her words. I am diabetic and I am of a mixed race. But I am confident that I can make a great contribution to the human race. I got it Dr Angelou that I too was paid for already. I got it if I have give and if I learn teach. I know you. I feel like you mothered me in a week and fueled my soul. So I got it and I thank you if you can hear me. I will carry your light and will in my OWN way shine. To your family and friends I am indebted to your mom, Aunt, grandmother and great grandmother for inspiring me to be better. To be freer, to be kinder, to liberated in mind. It hurts….a deep pain…..This little light of mine…I am going to let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…..

I take responsibility for the space I occupy.

Tori McPetrie says:

Fierce Grace

The map maker
The linguist
The architect of truth
The revealer of illusion
The brave one
Face to the sun, reflecting back its light
Moon Catcher
Change Maker
Goddess of the here and now
Tempted, marked and violated by life’s interrogation
Words finding a home on your clean slate
You hung out misconception like clean laundry on the line
A freight train of wisdom
The conductor of vowels and consonants
Your placement perfection although you believed in the messiness of life
You honored the broken, for cracks allow light and light will always stand up to
The gate keeper, you held prejudice at bay and forged a new way
You never ran, two feet always firmly planted in the moment
You owned your time here
Bending the rules, you were rewriting the instruction manual
Handing each new generation an opportunity to break the marble mold so perfectly crafted to contain
Ah that essence, that “it” revealed in your smile
A shaman, you keep words in your worn leather pouch
A warrior, tested, confronted, bleeding, brought to your knees. Here is where others would have screamed
Yet it is ‘thank-you’ that passes over your lips like a prayer
A gratefulness lives inside you like a fine garden
Full, abundant and tended
Is it from here that you sow your clarity and pick your knowing?
What are we left with besides everything?
For 86 years you toiled and attended to these inner seeds, while the world hungered for your harvest
You never said it would be easy
A fee must be paid, a stumble will have you falter but you always have the option of who you want to be in that moment
This I’ve seen you do
This I’ve watched with the wonder of a child on Christmas morning
Better than Santa you have offered mankind the eternal gift
May we recognize its value and strive to know we are worthy
If indeed our life does flash before our eyes when we die, what a view you must have had!
People will forget, time eats images but that feeling you evoked at the center of who we are, that sacred wound that you kissed and so graciously forgave so that we all may start
You absorbed the worlds ache and returned it to us purified and clear
We all matter
We all have the potential of contribution percolating inside us
You paved the way with a million little acts of love and sacrifice
Choice after choice you painted a picture worth living in
An artist, you sculpted words from a difficult past to create a future we didn’t know we were entitled too
Standing here now before my life I have to ask
What am I sculpting?
You became your canvas
The dancer and the dance
The writer and the words
The lover and the loved
I know why the caged bird sings because you were brave enough to tell me

By Tori McPetrie

Sarah-Amelie says:

Dear Maya,
I first came across one of your poems (15 years ago) when I was about 16. I learned English at school, but although it was probably not that good back then, the poem I read struck me right in the heart: I did not only understand- I felt the words. The poem I had read was “Alone” and I had never heard about the writer before. Since I wanted to find out more about this woman Maya Angelou and read more of her poems I started to investigate. The internet (or maybe it was my computer skills?) was not that advanced and it really took some time to find out more- but what I found immediately got me. I think already back then I could be called a “fan”. I worked on improving my English and read more and the first longer paper I wrote in English class was bout Maya Angelou. When I finished school I started to study English and the writer that was always good company and had the right read for every situation was you. I read your poems I read your autobiographies and there was one thing that I couldn’t understand and actually still can’t is: that I seemed to be the only one – at least in Germany! Of course I try and spread the poems and read and write and send them to all my friends and everyone who reads them falls in love- but there is one big problem: as far as I know your work has not been translated into German! There is a translation of your first autobiography- but I think that’s it.
I know that it is hard – if not impossible- to translate poetry. Especially your poetry. But I think it would be great if more of your writings were available to a German audience. I’ve already made some translations for friend or family (I gave “Mother” in the original + German translation to my mom as a birthday present) and I think I will continue some day… Your writings I so important for me. I just have to pass them on!
As I said I started studying but during that period of my life I somehow lost myself and I got really sick. I was suffering from an eating disorder and looking back at that time I really cannot understand how I managed to survive. But I did survive and I’m still here and I somehow feel that I have to thank you for it, too. I know that this must sound pathetic, but I think it’s true. I think you have a poem or a story for every situation in life- and that helped me. I still don’t always feel like a “phenomenal woman”, but reading such empowering words in hard times can be really strengthening! It wasn’t just reading your poem that helped me, though. It was also the idea that I had: I wanted to do my Masters in English Literature and I wanted to finish my Thesis. It was very important for me and during the process of writing I might have gone away from a merely academic purpose and in the end wrote it for myself. And maybe also a little bit for you. The title of my thesis is “a life in poems” and it focusses on the “autobiographical aspects in the poetry of Maya Angelou”. I finished it in 2008 and since then I wanted to tell you about it, but I never did. I don’t know why. I guess first of all I was too shy, then I didn’t know what to write, then I thought there was too much to say… I could continue this list forever and I could go on writing forever because there is still so much to say and still so many compliments to make… but I will stop here.
At least now you know that thousands of miles away somewhere in Germany there is one little woman who adores and love you and your work.
Now that you’re gone I will miss you terribly!
You have influenced so many people you’ve done so much good- for others and for myself, so I just want to say THANK YOU! Thank you for your writings. Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for everything you gave to the world. I haven’t been so lucky as to meet you personally, but I’m sure that you’ve been a wonderful, WONDERFUL person and I am so glad that I came across your writings. So again- with all my heart, I say: THANK YOU!
Yours, Sarah-Amelie
p.s. I learned from your writings that there is always a way and that I will “rise”. And since I don’t want to forget this, I wear this as a tattoo on my arm. You’ll always be a part of me <3

Hazel Murray Smith says:

Last week, May 28 while reflecting on Dr Angelou, how her life and lessons encouraged me, I wrote this on my Facebook timeline: I wonder what would happen if some of us would share our “Maya Stories” here over the next few days on facebook? I have one that I’ve told a few times. Here it is again, this time told with even greater respect: I was a college junior at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC in 1971 when I attended a “talk” with the then “Miss Angelou” in the University Chapel. I had not yet decided what I would do for my life’s work. I was leaning toward social work. Her first autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, had achieved best-seller status and more. I had read it, ravishingly. My own family members and I could relate to many of her early life experiences which she covered in that profound work. There were only a dozen or so students in attendance. I don’t remember if any of our professors attended. I do remember thinking how ridiculously minimizing this low number turn out might seem to this very special new author and poet. Nevertheless, she was very relaxed and engaging with us. Very unassuming, dressed in a modest head wrap, nice blouse and jeans, she could have been an “older student” working on an advanced degree. There was an ease about her and conversation flowed easily. We were dealing with some very, very heavy issues then, you know. Black Power, the Black Panthers, Dr M L King’s Assassination, the Viet Nam War, birth control pills, “free sex”, funk music, message songs, Affirmative Action, etc. During that evening “talk”, it became clear to us that she already had many wise thoughts and things to teach, to share. Things about being Black In America. About being true to yourself regardless of race, gender or persuasions. I complimented her and thanked her for her inspirations, then asked for her autograph in my worn paperback copy of Caged Bird. She obliged, rather matter-of-factly. I remember thinking “She sure doesn’t seem to take herself that seriously. But what a great writer! What an interesting woman”. Little did I know, then! Today, I treasure my early copy of your first book so much more, Dr Angelou. You have indelibly taught us and inspired us. God bless your memory and your work, always.

Lundi Ramsey Denfeld says:

I met Maya Angelou back in 1980, while a student in Dolly McPherson’s freshman English composition class at Wake Forest. This was before Dr. Angelou’s affiliation with the university; Dr. McPherson had simply invited her friend to speak with us, a handful of young students. Corny as it sounds (I’m just gonna say it), I felt the air change when Maya Angelou entered the room. Her presence. Electric. Confusing. Exciting. Wondrous. She was a phenomenal woman (before I had even heard of, much less read the poem); I needed no one to tell me she was a force, a bigger-than-life soul. The energy of Maya was just there, here, there. She spoke of her writing process; her habit of wearing only a large caftan with nothing else underneath which might inhibit or stifle her writing, the only other item on her body being a hat, with which to hold her thoughts in her head until she could put pen to paper, “I cannot let my thoughts escape,” she smiled fiercely, broadly, raising her eyebrows and eyeing us individually. It was the first time that I really understood the phrase “thoughts are things”.

Dr. Angelou spoke of surrounding oneself with good people who are encouragers, and of not allowing others in one’s presence to gossip or tear another human being down. She explained that at her many dinner parties, she never hesitated to abruptly stop conversation if she heard negativity, “Stop! I do not allow that type of talk at my table!” As I listened, I marveled. I wondered if it were possible for me to do this with friends, with acquaintances, without seeming rude. Obviously Dr. Angelou knew with a strength and a correct sense of rightness (not righteousness) what I did not, that it was a matter of who was the one actually being rude in this situation!

This sense of rightness extended to protecting herself from those who would try to injure her with their criticism, especially from those who were so-called friends, using veiled words (we all know the type…people who use sly comments about our “different” new haircut(!) or “nice” new outfit(!), all the while meaning the opposite of good). Dr. Angelou declared to us…throwing her head down and her hand up in a STOP gesture…that she did not let others “pick, pick, pick at [her] bones” with their words. It was unnecessary and hurtful, especially when coming from someone whom one considered a friend. That was the yardstick of a real friend– are they picking or building– and be prepared to believe one’s gut about that!

Maya Angelou was brave to write her truths and put them out there for perusal by the world; knowing, I am sure, that some would judge her– and some would understand–but perhaps not knowing that some would cling to her words for dear life. Her gift was in knowing which of those camps to care about and which to disregard. In this respect, she lived the serenity prayer; making a difference in the lives of others if she could, and accepting if she could not. All she could do was her best, and in that she succeeded spectacularly.

Noel Shepherd says:

I knew of Dr. Angelou when I came to Wake Forest as a freshman. I met her once on campus but never took any of her classes. It’s one of the few things I regret about my time as a student at Wake Forest. After graduating I worked at WXII-TV in Winston-Salem as a writer/producer for various projects. One day I received a call From Jim Steele, who worked with Dr. Angelou, about coming to her home to record a video message. Needless to say we jumped at the opportunity. We went to her home, set up in her living room and recorded a video message to Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who is one of my personal heroes. It was surreal to be there, and I was honored to just play a part in that exchange between two American icons. I remember how she treated me with such respect, how genuine she was, and how friendly she was to our crew. It made quite an impression. Dr. Angelou must have liked our work because we received many requests for similar projects after that. They ranged from a video birthday message to Oprah, to one of the first recordings of her inauguration poem for Bill Clinton. Each time I sat there mesmerized, witnessing something special and historic, and being thankful that I was able to play a small part. On my second trip to her home, she greeted me by calling my name. I always found it odd or even a bit over-the-top that she referred to everyone by their last name. “Mr. Shepherd, so good to see you today.” Even after we became more well-acquainted, she would still refer to me in a formal manner. One day, as we were waiting for the set up of camera and lights, she invited me to sit with her at her kitchen table. She offered me iced tea, and we sat and drank and talked. She wanted to know more about me: where I came from, my parents’ background, my experience at Wake, my hopes and dreams. I was taken aback that someone of her stature would want to know anything about me. As we spoke, I worked up the nerve to ask her some questions as well. She was so honest and forthcoming, it surprised me. But it gave me even greater insight into the greatness of Dr. Angelou. I finally asked her why she continued to use such formal greetings, even to people she was familiar with. To the best of my recollection, she simply stated, “It’s about respect, Mr. Shepherd. The world would be a better place if we all had respect for one another. It’s my way of honoring you as a person.” I had many more interactions with Dr. Angelou. But that one experience of just a few minutes sitting at her kitchen table, drinking her iced tea, and learning a life-lesson from a literary legend will always stand out as my favorite. Thank you, Dr. Angelou for your kindness, your dignity, your respect. I will never forget.

Cindy Cherry-Graham says:

Dr. Maya Angelou is one of the most influential human beings of all time. I make that statement as profoundly as she lived her life. This phenom of a woman left her mark on me when I was a young girl reading what is to be called her greatest literary work, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”. This book changed my life. It was upon reading this book that I knew my love for words would carry me far in life. I began to try and quench a thirst for words and knowledge that seemed to never end. This grand lady would later in my life come to be the subject of my English term paper. While writing this paper God would allow our paths to cross. Yes, I was blessed to not only meet Dr. Angelou but to have a conversation with her! That is a day that I will never forget. She made such an impact on me with her grand statuesque form. This woman wore a simple long black velvet gown that seemed to flow with her spirit without effort. It was as if the garment itself knew that it was an honor to drape her body…it was no longer just a simple gown it’s owner had made it a wonderful force that indeed added to her presence. Ms. Angelou recited her poem “Phenomenal Woman” during her appearance. I sat in awe of this creature that God had lent our world to enjoy and to learn from. Not only did I glean from her I kept how she made me feel to be a phenomenal black woman in that very moment.
I was deeply saddened when I heard of Dr. Angelou’s passing. I know that there is no longer breath in her physical body. Oh but her spirit will always be with us. Everyone that got the chance to meet her, whether it was in person or in one of her books. We will never ever forget this grand woman who stood tall for her race and for humanity.
My youngest daughter bears the Maya Angelique’. I named her after Dr. Angelou. She knows that name carries with it an honor. An honor that I have always prayed that my child would have a few of the characteristics of her namesake. I am pleased to announce that my daughter is an honor student. She loves to read and write…yes she loves to write stories and poems.
Dr. Maya Angelou rest in the peace of your wonderful, awesome, blessed Creator!

Mrs. Cindy Cherry-Graham

I received an “A” on my term paper on Dr. Angelou! Having a chance to meet her and having her to sign my title page may have helped with my grade just a bit!

Jocelyn Brannon says:

Maya Angelou died yesterday morning

In a southern city of my homeland.

She died and now I weep for the people.

Don’t you?

Does it not pain you in some way to know of this loss to our community?

Do you not feel an ache deep within your soul at the knowledge of no more Maya?

No more Marguerite?

She said things with words that were powerful.

Her words

That she wrote and spoke were powerful and she used them with such care.

She was not frivolous in her use of the language like so many of us others.

And so I weep.

I weep because her Legacy is immense and wide,

Her literary and artistic work so broad and deep,

Such that her passing reveals a great big ‘ole hole.


In the middle of that hole

Is a set of tremendous footprints

Of shoes

That we only have a few that can fill.

We have Pearl. We have Melissa. We have Nikki of course, but who else?

We need so many others and they are too few for the work that needs doing.

The job is so big these days that it now requires many, many Maya’s to hold back the wave of ignorance and in-articulation that threatens the people.

Her light shone so bright that I weep

For fear that going forward no other lights will be able to illuminate the dark

Even were they gathered together in collective artistry could their lights shine even half as bright?

Beacons of intelligence, centered honesty with oneself and others

Great understanding of the importance of One’s Self to the struggle and the fight for Right and Others.

The voice to encourage diligence in the efforts to improve mankind and remind him of the beautiful parts of his nature and the brutal animal that with out a Cautious Posture he may be.

I weep, because her passing reminds me that I have work to do

That I do not want to do

That I did not have to do because she was here.

But now she is gone and how on God’s earth can I and others do our part?

How? For I am nothing.

I hid behind her words, her scoldings, her reminders

She did it best.

She did it with dance. She did it with song.

She did it even with film, and paper, and script.

She did it with The Stage.


Told the world about Me and about Us and about Them.

I did not have to say a thing.

I did not have to write a sentence. I did not have to dance one step or sing one note.

I did not have to define an emotion and existence because she was there to do it.

But she is gone

And I weep for myself and the people.
“She told the world about me and about us and about them.”

Dr. Luz Maria Umpierre (Luzma) says:

Day of Sorrow in MY Life: Extraordinary poet, actress, performer, lover of women and my own Marguerite from The Margarita Poems has died at 86. It seems just yesterday she approved of my using her quote from a letter she wrote personally to me while I was at Western Kentucky University to laud myThe Margarita Poems and saying that she was also a Margarita in my life. I used her comments on the back cover of my book I’m Still Standing; Thirty Years of Poetry which was mailed to her also for her delight with a loving inscription. The letter is now at De Paul University. I am speechless to say all I adored this woman. I saw her read for years and years and I even took Moira Finley (my adopted daughter) and Aroostine Brown (her friend) to see her in Boston. They are both disabled and they were inspired by her story of survival. Dr.Angelou always spoke to me when I attended her readings, at times in private, while we walked down the hallways. She always wore long dresses to perform just like I took on doing much to my former lover’s disliking. Prof. Maya Angelou: I will be writing real soon to honor you and I ask everyone here to raise their hand and say: “I swear allegiance to the grand dame who wrote a poem for President Bill Clinton and who today I re-affirm that one of the most prestigious awards in Heaven should be bestowed on her as America’s premiere HUMAN being!” I loved you and I am in mourning. Maya Maya Maya dearest, love, you are not gone, you live in my aching bones but you gave me a balsam to heal. Everyone a huge clap for the life of Maya. I wish I could stand guard at her funeral. Still I rise! Still I rise! Still I rise! Still raising! And, please let us all clap around the World for a Professor Emeriti has died today as we bow to her also in the kindness admission to her greatness. A hug Puerto Rican embrace to my colleagues at Wake Forest and especially to my colleague there Prof. Mary Lusky Friedman who admired her deeply.

Laura Wilson Phelan says:

I was privileged to take Dr. Angelou’s class while I was a student at Wake Forest where we were expected to dive deeply into her 50 favorite poems and put on a performance of them that she directed. No, not intimidating at all to perform poetry in front of Maya Angelou! I’ll never forget two things she taught me. The first I learned while sitting at freshman convocation where she stepped to the microphone and started her speech about our limitless possibility by singing a song. We nervous, self-conscious and awkward freshman, most of whom did not appreciate this woman’s history and talent, sat transfixed as she sang. A pin could’ve dropped in that hall. Today, over 20 years later, I remember distinctly thinking at that moment, “I want to be like her. I never want to be scared to be my beautiful self.” She reinforced this lesson in the way she taught. She did not accept for an instant anyone who spoke in front her with a small voice. In front of all of us in the class she would demand that that student restate and restate her lines until she said them with poise, meaning and confidence. When I became a teacher, I taught with the same approach of tough love that she did, never accepting anything less than 100% of my students’ beautiful selves. The second stark memory comes from a story she shared with us. She was attending some sort of Hollywood awards show and walking down the red carpet with the cameras flashing, feeling bold and so high on her self-importance, when, from among the crowd of on-lookers, she heard a boy exclaim, “That’s my teacher!” That phrase brought her back down to earth, and she thought, “Yes, I am a teacher. That is what I am, and there is no higher privilege than that.” For all of us to aspire to impact beyond ourselves, here’s to an amazing woman who did. May we all strive to be our unapologetic beautiful selves in all that we do and support our teachers.