I called her Winston-Salem, N.C. home promptly at our scheduled interview time, but an assistant asked, politely, if I would call back in just a few minutes. I gladly acquiesced, and, in that same spirit, when I called back waited patiently for her to make it to the phone. And then I heard her voice, “Good afternoon, Ms. Prince,” and it was well worth the wait.
As a reporter you’re supposed to remain objective, but I can admit to feeling a bit star-struck—Maya Angelou, world-renowned poet, author, activist, actress…conversing…with…me. And yet, somehow, she managed to convince me that for her, too, our conversation was both a pleasure and a privilege.
As poet and writer Nikki Giovanni said about Angelou, “Her ability to speak to everyone in the same voice was what made her the force she was,” and I found that to be true.
Her voice—fathomless, knowing, like that of a sage; gracious, regal, strong like that of a warrior-queen; yet, warm, welcoming like the quintessential grandmother—invited me in to sit down, relax and join her in an oral repast.
And so I did. For the next 15 minutes I gorged, listening to her speak about her writing process—sometimes organic, sometimes methodical but always from the soul. She spoke about her experiences as the wife of South African freedom fighter Vusumzi L. Make—somehow managing to maintain her voice within the passionate, boisterous, male-dominated milieu.
Mostly, however, she reminisced about her decades-long friendship with world-beloved icon Nelson Mandela, his global impact and her homage, “His Day Is Done” published after his death.
“We will not forget you, we will not dishonor you, we will remember and be glad that you lived among us, that you taught us, and that you loved us all,” she said of Mandela. Yet, in the wake of her death on May 28, we apply the words to her.
We cannot forget the woman whose own story of struggle and triumph captured the shared experiences of so many in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. We will not dishonor the phenomenal woman who empowered us, too, to stride in self-love with our heads unbowed. We will remember the oracle, who showed us the light of hope amid the darkest clouds. We will be glad for the lessons she taught—to seek peace, pursue equality, walk with dignity and seek our best selves.
Tributes to Angelou’s legacy, particularly from those who met her or knew her personally, attest to her profound impact.
I, too, had an encounter with the legend that is Maya Angelou, the merest brush against her garments, really, but I know I’ll never be the same.