Maya Angelou, a modern Renaissance woman who survived the harshest of childhoods to become a force on stage, screen, the printed page and the inaugural dais, has died. She was 86.
Here & Now’s Robin Young examines the life and legacy of Maya Angelou with poet Kevin Young, who is a professor of English and creative writing at Emory University.
Interview Highlights: Kevin Young
On Angelou’s voice
“I think that’s one of the things we’ll miss most, in the broadest terms, is her voice — both how she spoke and that melodic, yet fierce tone. It had this kind of great depth to it, this undertone — but also, her voice on the page. And I think I remember reading the memoir ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ and it was so powerful — a sort of reckoning and a remedy at the same time. It has that great title, taken from Dunbar…’We Wear the Mask,’ and, you know, taking that and really channeling the feeling of his poems, which had always been held close to African-American writers and the public … and touched a similar kind of nerve about survival. And the voice, again, singing despite it all.”
On her use of words
“I think she had a way with words, of course, both in speaking and especially in that memoir, and I think they were both comforting. I was re-reading ‘And Still I Rise’ and how she talks about, ‘You may tread me in the dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.’ I love that image.”
On overcoming her personal struggles and becoming a champion for others
“I think about the silence that she survived … apparently, it was six years — I think it was one of the more incredible parts of the memoir — and then emerging with that incredible voice. And you can hear that context, you know, working behind that poem in a powerful way. And I think she really gave voice, in the broadest sense, both to poetry as a public forum, but also specifically to the voices of black women, and I think she not just represented that rising spirit, but also embodied it.”
- Kevin Young, author of six poetry collections and editor of five other, and professor of English and creative writing at Emory University. He tweets @Deardarkness.