Last month I lost my idol, my ultimate hero, my inspiration, a woman I’ve looked up to since my teenage years, a woman whose words helped me through tough times and inspired me to never give up on my writing, even when I felt like I was going nowhere with it.
Her name was Maya Angelou.
For those of you who don’t know who she is, she was an incredible woman with several strings to her bow. She was an incredibly gifted writer, wrote some amazing poetry and all of her autobiographies are both upsetting and uplifting. She was a civil rights activist who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr, a professor, a playwright and even dabbled in the entertainment world as a film/TV producer and even directing. In her lifetime she wrote 7 autobiographies (no book will make you cry like I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings), 3 books of essays, won tons of awards for her work (both on and off the page) and was awarded over 50 honorary degrees. Told you she was ace.
What I loved most about her was that she always wanted to share her knowledge. She was giving lectures right into her 80s and always came across as the most amazing and kind woman in every interview.
I discovered her books at comprehensive school as I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was on my A Level reading list. It was the best timing ever, at a time when I was struggling to fit in and trying to figure out who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do, her book gave me hope that none of those things actually mattered, as long as I had belief and a passion.
Until her death on May 28th, I never understood how people could get so upset when famous people (or people generally in the public eye) died. How can you get so upset when someone you’ve never met and barely know dies? Turns it, it’s pretty easy.
Maya Angelou’s death was the first time I’ve grieved for someone I’d never met. I saw the news break when I was at work, and found myself heading towards the ladies loos to cry. I had texts from friends and family telling me the news, and I ended up needing to go straight home after work rather than heading to the pub as planned. It’s the reaction that’s understandable when a loved one dies, and although I felt stupid grieving for her, it also felt right and respectful at the same time.
I think one of the reasons it upset me so much is because she was such an inspiration. She’d been through so much and come out stronger the other side. I didn’t really look up towards any other high profile women, I didn’t need to, and now there’s a gap where Maya used to be.
The day after it happened, I planned on writing this post right away. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it, it was too hard. I’d always imagined writing to her or going over to America to see her talk, or just do something that showed my admiration for her, and suddenly that opportunity was gone. Even the final version of this post took me several hours to write. I needed it to be perfect, not just for me, but for Maya’s memory, in the hope it makes just one person who’s never heard of her pick up her poetry, her autobiographies or look up her lectures.
So if you do one thing this week, read some Maya Angelou. Even if it’s just one of her short poems, or the opening paragraph from one of her many autobiographies, read something of hers. You won’t regret it.
I’ll leave you with one of my (many) favourite Maya Angelou quotes as I think sums her up perfectly…
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.”
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