There are several things that make her name and her legacy special to me, the first is that my middle name is Marguerite, and so I feel a kinship (Marguerite means “a pearl) and second because my grandmother,’s maiden name was Bailey. (I was named Marguerite as a legacy from my mother, Helen Marguerite, and my grandmother, Julia Marguerite, and for an ancestress, Marguerite LeBeau and feel a strong connection to the women who bore that name before me and to those (my niece, Lisa Marguerite and great niece, Phoebe Marguerite.) I believe in the mystical, and like Maya Angelou, I think there is great significance in words and in names. Coincidences like her name and her brother’s name have drawn me now for decades. She also spent a great deal of her time, and feels that she was raised by, her grandmother. Another paralell to my life.
I first learned of Maya Angelou in a University of Louisville women’s literature course in the early 80s. I was in my 30s, going to college after marriage and birthing 6 children. I was thirsty for knowledge. My previous education had been self-taught, when I was nineteen, I went to the library, checked out books, starting with Jane Austen, moving to the Bronte Sisters, followed by Willa Cather, reading Thodore Dreiser, George Eliot, Flaubert, and on and on. I think I stopped somewhere in the Js or Ks, by that time motherhood demanded more and more of my time. But the take home point was that most of the authors I read were men, and the occasional woman was an anomaly, it was clear that men were superior authers (or so the patriarchy wanted us to believe.)
Consequently, a class devoted entirely to contemporary women writers was compelling, and I had to take it. I was thirsty for feminism and drank it down. Maya Angelou stood out for several reasons, not the least of which was her skin color. If women were less “authorial” than men, then how much more so were Black women writers.
Maya Angelou also stood out because she had, as she would say, “given up her voice. She functioned as a mute for 5 1/2 years (from age 7 ½ to 13) after the man who raped her was beaten to death upon her telling of the event, and she believed it was her fault that he was dead. She decided that if her voice killed, she better not talk. And when she regained her voice and insisted on telling the truth, about women’s lives, about black lives, about all of us, her voice was stronger than ever.
She knew why the caged bird sings and she knew what was on the pulse of the morning. She was one of only 2 American poets (or any poet for that matter) to read her own poem for the inauguration of a president. She wrote “On the pulse of the morning” at the request of President Elect Bill Clinton in 1993. She won a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and she was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Later, she was asked to write a poem for the United Nations, long after she had been ostracized from entering the United Nations building because she was a black woman. Delivering that poem to a delegation of world leaders was one of the most poignant moments in her life, by her admission.
All of these things are important, there are other reasons I relate to her, one being a simple fact about her writing habits. She wrote with Roget’s Thesaurus by her side, she wrote with pen on legal pads, both practices of mine for over 30 decades (although lately, I have to confess that the ease of typing words has lessened my practice of writing in longhand, and the quickness of using the internet to look something up, makes the Thesaurus merely a decoration in my bookcase!
The other fact, and one that resonates most deeply was her love of God and her study of Unity Principles. (I have been a student of Unity for several years and Dr. Maya Angelou also called herself a student, in spite of the fact that she was being awarded an honorary doctorate from Unity Village. I am so glad that she learned of that honor prior to her death. Her spirituality resonated with me, also her quiet wisdom, her courageous faith, and her down to earth philosophy of simple goodness, living by principle not by feeling, and always, always remembering “God Loves Me.” She always demanded respect in her presence because “Words Become Things” and “Words have energy and affect those around us.” In an Oprah Interview on Super Soul Sunday, she stated that she believed that the energy of words gets in the walls of a place, the rugs, and on your clothes, and eventually they will get into you. “So be careful what you allow in your presence.” Wise words from a very wise and learned woman.
Maya Angelou died May 28, 2014. She knew why the caged bird sings, I know her Spirit soars.
Ref: Interviews with Maya, Oprah Winfrey show on the OWN network. 06/01/14