OUR COMMON GROUND Remembering Maya Angelou Ω A Journey of Immense Struggle into Victory

“Last night, I heard you in the stars.
You whispered clearly of the rock, the river and the rustling trees.
That is when the moon sighed and turned golden.

FAREWELL to the lyrical magician, now a most honored Ancestor, Dr. Maya Angelou.”

 – Janice Graham, having lived on the cusp of your blazing spirit all my adult life.



Celebrated memoirist and poet Maya Angelou, 86, who was found dead Wednesday at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., was a high school dropout who became a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.

Angelou was an American Study herself. “I have created myself,” she told USA TODAY in 2007, “I have taught myself so much.”

She defied labels. She was a walking encylopedia of careers and passions. She wrote 36 books. She was an actress, director, playwright, composer, singer and dancer. She once worked as a madam in a brothel and as the first female and first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco.

The Maya Angelou Victory Celebration

A private service will be held at Wake Forest University on Saturday,  June 7.

It will be held at the Wait Chapel.

Wait Chapel is the largest, non-athletic indoor setting on the campus, according to the school’s website. It can hold 2,250 people.

The service will be live streamed for the public 

Renowned African-American poet, historian, and civil rights advocate Maya Angelou, was found dead in her home at the age of 86. Best known for her literary works, Angelou was also heavily involved in politics.

She was best known for her debut memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), which remains widely read in schools. She described being raped at 8 (by her mother’s boyfriend) and becoming an unwed mother at 17. (She is survived by her son, Guy Johnson, a poet and novelist).

She was friends with Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Oprah Winfrey who hosted grand birthday parties for Angelou.

In a statement, Winfrey said, “I’ve been blessed to have Maya Angelou as my mentor, mother/sister, and friend since my 20s. She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life. The world knows her as a poet but at the heart of her, she was a teacher. ‘When you learn, teach. When you get, give’ is one of my best lessons from her.”

Winfrey noted that Angelou won three Grammys, spoke six languages and was the second poet in history to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. “But what stands out to me most about Maya Angelou is not what she has done or written or spoken, it’s how she lived her life. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace. I loved her and I know she loved me. I will profoundly miss her. She will always be the rainbow in my clouds.”

In 1997,Oprah’s Book Club chose Angelou’s The Heart of a Woman, the fourth of her seven memoirs. It hit No. 1 on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list.

Angelou’s publisher, Random House, confirmed her death. Allen Joines, the mayor of Winston-Salem, N.C., told reporters that Angelou’s caregiver found her dead in her home Wednesday morning.

As news of her death spread, other writers paid their respects via Twitter:

J.K. Rowling quoted Angelou saying, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” And added, “Maya Angelou – who was utterly amazing.”

Jodi Picoult thanked her “for teaching the rest of us how to use words with bravery and grace to move the world to tears and action.”

QUOTES: 13 of Maya Angelou’s best quotes

Her formal education ended in high school. But she was awarded more than 30 honorary degrees from colleges. She insisted on being called “Dr. Angelou.”



In November 2013, at the age of 85, Angelou stole the show at the National Book Awards in New York when she was presented an award for “Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.” She was introduced that night by her friend, author Toni Morrison, who said of Angelou, “Suffering energized and strengthened her, and her creative impulse struck like bolts of lightning.”

From her wheelchair, Angelou dazzled the crowd by singing a verse of a spiritual: “When it looked like it wouldn’t stop raining, God put a rainbow in the clouds.”

She then told the ballroom full of writers, editors and publishers: “You are the rainbow in my clouds.” To laughter and applause, she added, that “easy reading is damn hard writing.” In reviewing her career, she said, “For over 40 years, I have tried to tell the truth as I understand it. … I haven’t tried to tell everything I know, but I’ve tried to tell the truth.”

MORE: Maya Angelou: The essential reading list

In January 2014, after the death of South African leader Nelson Mandela — who had read aloud Angelou’s poem, Still I Rise, at his 1994 presidential inauguration — she publishedHis Day Is Done, a poetic tribute to Mandela commissioned by the U.S. State Department.

It reads in part: “The news came on the wings of a wind/Reluctant to carry its burden./Nelson Mandela’s day is done.”

In her 2002 memoir, A Song Flung Up to Heaven, Angelou wrote of her friendship with writer James Baldwin: “Once after we had spent an afternoon talking and drinking with a group of white writers in a downtown bar, he said he liked that I could hold my liquor and my positions. He was pleased that I could defend Edgar Allan Poe and ask serious questions about Willa Cather.”

It was Baldwin who prodded Bob Loomis, an editor at Random House, to persuade Angelou to write an autobiography, which she was reluctant to do.

As Angelou told the story, Loomis called several times before challenging: “You may be right not to attempt an autobiography because it is nearly impossible to write autobiography as literature. Almost impossible.”

Angelou added, “Jimmy (Baldwin) must have told him to say that, Jimmy would know how I would react to being told, ‘You can’t … ‘ ”

In a statement Wednesday, Loomis wrote, “Maya, a dear friend, helped change our hearts and minds about the African American experience in the United States, bringing it to vivid life.”

She wrote and delivered a poem at President Clinton’s 1993 inaugural. Her recording of that poem, On the Pulse of Morning, won a Grammy.

She also had a deal with Hallmark to write short poems and thoughts for greeting cards, pillows and other gift items. For that, she was lampooned on Saturday Night Live.

But she shrugged off her critics, as if she has was used to being a target. “By the time I was 14, I was 6 feet tall,” she told USA TODAY. “I’ve never been able to hide.”

And what’s wrong, she asked, “with wanting to put poetry in people’s hands, even if they’re not going to buy a book?”

Critics and scholars said her prose was better than her poetry. She drew large crowds to public readings, which she gave in a strong, mellifluous Southern accent.

The poem she wrote for the lighting of the White House Christmas Tree in 2005, Amazing Peace, reached No. 12 on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list. That’s foreign territory for most poetry.

Even if her poems didn’t receive much serious critical attention, they were “sassy,” William Sylvester wrote in the 2001 edition of Contemporary Poets. When “we hear her poetry, we listen to ourselves.”

Most of all, she was a survivor. The best of her writing reminded Yale scholar Harold Bloom of how “the early black Baptists in America spoke of ‘the little me within the big me,’ almost the last vestige of the spirituality they carried with them on the Middle Passage from Africa.”

Angelou’s voice, Bloom says, “speaks to something in the American ‘little me within the big me,’ white and black and whatever, that can survive dreadful experiences because the deepest self is beyond experience and cannot be violated.”

Her early childhood was grim. She was 3 years old when her parents divorced in Long Beach, Calif. Her father sent her and her 4-year-old brother alone by train to live with his mother in segregated Stamps, Ark., “a town almost that size,” as Angelou put it.


Published on May 29, 2014
Maya Angelou (1928-2014), Poet Laureate, reads her poem “On the Pulse of Morning”, at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, January 1993.

This video was created by Ellison Horne as a tribute from the inspiration of Maya Angelou, an outstanding force in the world, who lives on forever in our hearts.

Here, it is set to the score of another inspiring leader from the world of music, Samuel Barber (1910-1981), as Thomas Schippers (1930-1977) conducts the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in “Adagio for Strings” (1936-38).


by Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species long since departed, 
Marked the mastodon, 
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens 
Of their sojourn here 
On our planet floor, 
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom 
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully, 
Come, you may stand upon my 
Back and face your distant destiny, 
But seek no haven in my shadow. 
I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than 
The angels, have crouched too long in 
The bruising darkness 
Have lain too long 
Face down in ignorance. 
Your mouths spilling words

Armed for slaughter. 
The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me, 
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world, 
A River sings a beautiful song. It says, 
Come, rest here by my side.

Each of you, a bordered country, 
Delicate and strangely made proud, 
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege. 
Your armed struggles for profit 
Have left collars of waste upon 
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast. 
Yet today I call you to my riverside, 
If you will study war no more. Come, 
Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs 
The Creator gave to me when I and the 
Tree and the rock were one. 
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your 
Brow and when you yet knew you still 
Knew nothing. 
The River sang and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to 
The singing River and the wise Rock. 
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew 
The African, the Native American, the Sioux, 
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek 
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik, 
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher, 
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher. 
They hear. They all hear 
The speaking of the Tree.

They hear the first and last of every Tree 
Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River. 
Plant yourself beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed 
On traveller, has been paid for. 
You, who gave me my first name, you, 
Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you 
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then 
Forced on bloody feet, 
Left me to the employment of 
Other seekers — desperate for gain, 
Starving for gold. 
You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot, 
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought, 
Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare 
Praying for a dream. 
Here, root yourselves beside me. 
I am that Tree planted by the River, 
Which will not be moved. 
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree 
I am yours — your passages have been paid. 
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need 
For this bright morning dawning for you. 
History, despite its wrenching pain 
Cannot be unlived, but if faced 
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon 
This day breaking for you. 
Give birth again 
To the dream.

Women, children, men, 
Take it into the palms of your hands, 
Mold it into the shape of your most 
Private need. Sculpt it into 
The image of your most public self. 
Lift up your hearts 
Each new hour holds new chances 
For a new beginning. 
Do not be wedded forever 
To fear, yoked eternally 
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward, 
Offering you space to place new steps of change. 
Here, on the pulse of this fine day 
You may have the courage 
To look up and out and upon me, the 
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country. 
No less to Midas than the mendicant. 
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here, on the pulse of this new day 
You may have the grace to look up and out 
And into your sister’s eyes, and into 
Your brother’s face, your country 
And say simply 
Very simply 
With hope — 

Good morning.

 Spoken at the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony of Bill Clinton, January 20, 1993.

Maya Angelou, Author

Maya Angelou was an American author and poet. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than fifty years. Wikipedia

BornApril 4, 1928 (age 86), St. Louis, MO
DiedMay 28, 2014
ChildrenGuy Johnson
AwardsPresidential Medal of Freedom
SpousePaul du Feu (m. 1973–1981), Vusumzi Make (m. 1960–1963),Enistasious Tosh Angelos (m. 1951–1954)


The Maya Angelou Victory Celebration

A private service will be held at Wake Forest University on Saturday,  June 7.

It will be held at the Wait Chapel.

Wait Chapel is the largest, non-athletic indoor setting on the campus, according to the school’s website. It can hold 2,250 people.

The service will be live streamed for the public at go.wfu.edu/angeloumemorial.


3 thoughts on “OUR COMMON GROUND Remembering Maya Angelou Ω A Journey of Immense Struggle into Victory

  1. Pingback: Remembering Maya Angelou | OCG

  2. Pingback: Saying “Good Morning” to Maya Ω A Journey of Immense Struggle into Victory | OCG

  3. Pingback: From Prostitute to Professor: The 7 Lessons of Maya Angelou’s Messy Life φ Yolanda Young | OCG

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