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.”