I know I love Maya Angelou, a presence to be felt for a lifetime. Met her once at a United Nations gathering, was it in the Fairmont? Got to talk to her just a bit on a quiet line where she was an ambassador of some kind. Really fuzzy on those details but not on her and her influence on me.
Maya Angelou was a huge kind heart tempored by the pain of being a beautiful woman, abused, knocked about but “Still I rise” are the words that keep coming back from her poetry. Her courage alone was immense.
In her archived interview on WFMT FM, Chicago w. Studs Terkel, another hero of my life and someone my Dad knew at WFMT in the years our parents worked with the Chicago Co-op and helped create the radio station – Maya Angelou spoke as many did with Studs – as his close busom buddy, someone she could talk to from her great heart and wisdom.
In just a few paragraphs read from her various publications, she conveyed the magic of the Chicago jazz scene, the grace of her (White) German Grandmother, the terror and shame it was for people labeled negro or colored in the 1930s, 1940’s and later when they couldn’t earn a living, couldn’t find respect, were broken. There was also the quick story of “a couple of men” she knew who could “live on two marks a year” grifting their way into an income by dreaming impossible dreams and inviting others along who would pay for something that would never come to them. Con men who knew the ropes.
Part of what made Maya Angelou was of course, her classic autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which I feel every human should read to become more human. Maya was raped at age, I think it was 10 – and as a result her uncle hunted down the guy and killed him. This kind of trauma never dies, but with courage it can be incorporated into a personality and ethics making a stronger human who still carries the pain of abuse. Always. Terror, anger, helplessness, hopelessness, abandonment, fear that you will be killed. All that can happen in a few minutes and last a lifetime causing all sorts of neurotic behavior unless, like Maya, you have the patience and spunk to tell your story and get on with life.
She was a fine singer, writer, ambassador, human. And while you’re at popup archive.org, poke around among the 9,000 hours of archived interviews Studs recorded over 46 years on WFMT – “A man who changed radio” they say. Yes, and listen to Maya Angelou who changed how women – and people of every race – are known. She will be greatly missed.