As you may have heard, Maya Angelou was found dead in her home this morning. She was 86. I was fortunate enough to hear her speak at least twice while I was living in Central Florida, once as a guest speaker at Rollins College and once as a speaker at the University of Central Florida. I’ve had the opportunity to hear many poets speak over the years; some made me wish they’d hired professionals, others added interesting layers of inflection of meaning through their readings. Maya Angelou’s readings, though, completely transformed her poems. She didn’t read them: she performed them, sometimes singing them. She had a warm, engaging, charismatic stage presence, one that managed to be energetic and self-effacing at the same time. She impressed without trying.

The Mothering Blackness
BY MAYA ANGELOU
She came home running
back to the mothering blackness
deep in the smothering blackness
white tears icicle gold plains of her face
She came home running

She came down creeping
here to the black arms waiting
now to the warm heart waiting
rime of alien dreams befrosts her rich brown face
She came down creeping

She came home blameless
black yet as Hagar’s daughter
tall as was Sheba’s daughter
threats of northern winds die on the desert’s face
She came home blameless

Here’s an audio clip of Angelou reading “Phenomenal Woman.”

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