EVERY once in a while, the world encounters a painfully stark admission of truth.Truth that manifests itself into flesh and bone and nerve and soul and makes us all prick up our ears and take notice. Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson, was one such rare entity. A poet, a novelist, a lover of all things beautiful, a rallying voice against the darkness of men, an activist, a woman. Maya Angelou passed away on May 28, leaving behind legions of fans instilled with the same burning fire of life that she carried with her.
Angelou is most famous for her series of autobiographies, the first of which, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings brought her international acclaim. It was not perhaps the fact that her writing stemmed from the harsh reality of the world that grabbed everyone's attention. It was something much more profound. Here was a writer who looked at life as a story worth telling, a poem worth reciting. Not something to be stored away neatly in pickle jars as you dissected the best bits in order to put them on paper—every minute of every day demanded to be anthologised. Here was a writer with a new school of thought, one that firmly believed that the best stories are the ones you live every day.
Angelou worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and was hugely influential during the Civil Rights Movement. She has empowered women the world over with her words and has preached love and tolerance. Often, the binding factor for men and women of this ilk is the rare gift of observation, the understanding that the greatest gift of life, that of boundless emotion, is free and can be shared openly with everyone.
My first encounter with Angelou came as an 8th grader when she sang in my head, “Still, like dust, I'll rise.” It invoked in me the vision of the indomitable spirit of being and the beauty that manages to sneak in like light through the cracks in the ceilings designed to unwittingly constrain and oppress life. Angelou was the woman, the phenomenal woman, who taught us that even through the trials and tribulations hope springs eternal. She sang to us, with the manna of jazz, of the perennial struggle of life in all its innate beauty. The caged bird has taken its final flight, but not before a swansong of respect from the world she left behind.
The writer is Editorial Assistant, The Daily Star.