Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shine on, dear Maya

Maya Angelou
April 4, 1928—May 28, 2014

Photograph by John Loengard


She was one of our brightest lights, a woman who despite her great stature was gracious enough to invite me to sit at her dining table in Winston-Salem one afternoon in July, engaging in a wide ranging conversation for the Preface to my book, Mending the World: Stories of Family by Contemporary Black Writers. When my editors and I first pitched the book, getting Maya to write the Preface was a reach-for-the-sun kind of dream, and yet it came to be.

Oh, Maya. I sat across from you that afternoon and was schooled by you, your voice reverberating with lessons about women and art, about writing, about family and racial bona fides and love—it always came back to love. You took me into your library, the walls lined floor to ceiling with beloved books, and you challenged me to be faithful to the lover I had chosen, literature. You sat with me in your garden, and laughed your deep rumbling drumbeat of a laugh, and I could hardly believe I should be so blessed as to be there with you in this familial way, you sharing your life with me as if I were a niece or younger cousin who mattered, for whom you felt a wry and gentle affection. That was your secret, though. We all mattered to you. You bathed us in compassion. You let us know our worth to you through your dancing eyes and waves of laughter, through your piercing, perfectly turned sentences, through the way you crashed all the boundaries life had set up to hold you, dragging us with you into the sun.

I feel such grief this morning at the news of your passing, but I feel such unbound gratitude, too, for all that you shared with us during your 86 years on this earth, for answering a letter written by a questing writer at the moment the Twin Towers fell. Yes, that is what I was doing on the morning of 9/11 as the news came across the airwaves that the world had forever changed. I was writing to Dr. Angelou to ask her to contribute to my book. And in her great and winning grace, she said yes.

Thank you for everything, Dr. Angelou. Shine on.


16 comments:

  1. I didn't know until just now. Damn. Thank you for sharing it with me this way.

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  2. What a precious memory of this amazing woman. Thank you for sharing.

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  3. Lucky both of you, for sharing time together. I'm in awe.

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  4. A beautiful tribute, and then goosebumps.
    Thank you.

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  5. Thank you for sharing your memories of Maya. Beautiful.

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  6. She is (okay, was- hard to believe) one of those people whose death you can barely mourn in that they gave SO much while they were here it would be selfish to ask for even more drop.
    I am celebrating her life and everything she gave to every one of us. Even if we never had the immense fortune to meet her as you did, we all somehow felt as if she was talking to us and us alone in her books, her poetry, her performances, her passion. What a great gift she was to us all.

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  7. Still completely overwhelmed with grief as well, but she brought--and still continues--to bring so much.

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  8. She was like a goddess. I half-expected her to be immortal and be with us forever.

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  9. I've been mourning all day that I will never meet her - but you did and you shared it, and that's close enough for me.

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  10. Fantastic. How blessed you were to have actually met her. It's wild -- her impact on so many. I will never forget when I heard her speak here in Los Angeles several years ago. It was truly one of the greatest couple of hours of my life.

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  11. What a great tribute to an awesome woman whose light will forever shine in the darkness. Thanks also for your lovely blog, which I came across recently and have been captivated by ever since.

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  12. Incredible. This is like an arrow striking home for me. Her words about the lover we chose went straight to my heart--as did the image of you and Maya communicating on that terrible morning. I love her. I love you. Thank you for sharing this precious memory.

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  13. Thank you so much for sharing your memory of Maya. This is a beautiful tribute.

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  14. What an incredible story! I am so glad you reached for the sun and enjoyed this wonderful experience. She will be missed but her words will stay with us.

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