An amazing writer and so much more, embracing life well into her 80s, Maya Angelou has died. I thought her spirit would be here with us forever. And although I had never met her, I already miss her.
Maya rose from very humble beginnings in the Deep South to build a life for herself; to express a rich, strong, articulate identity, in so many ways that it is particularly difficult to summarise her achievements. But if I had a couple of minutes, this is what I would say.
She was a woman raised in poverty and suffering sexual abuse in her childhood, and the weight of racism over her shoulders, a former prostitute, cook and pioneer of the San Francisco streetcars. She proved that she could emerge from the tunnel as an award winning writer, read the key poem at the presidential inauguration, travel the world as an academic and be close friends with Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, Billie Holliday and of course, her mum, the spirited Vivian Baxter.
Only once I stood in the same room as her, watching her address the audience and command the floor. She was just a dot in the distance at a public lecture in London in 2002. She wanted every young person to fulfil the promise of their lives through education. Maya’s voice spoke to me like a friend, so when news of her death came through on the internet, it was a morning that reminded me of where I was when Katharine Hepburn died in 2003.
I had thought Maya was untouchable and her words would be here forever. And in a way, I was so right…
Thank you for having the strength to be your own woman and learning from your mistakes along the way. Thank you for showing us that tomorrow it will be another day and that life loves those who dare to live it. I hope it is taken you somewhere else exciting and wonderful.