Maya Angelou dies aged 86

Maya Angelou, one of the most talented poets of our time, has died today aged 86. I don’t normally like to make eulogies or memoirs public, but I’m just so shocked by this.

For many of us, her works were part of our school curricula. Her poetry inspired generations of writers and aspiring artists and her words couldn’t help but move you.

I was in 9th grade when I read ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, on the recommendation of one of my favourite teachers. Angelou’s work changed the way I appreciated literature, the way I understood the struggle of other people and my views on feminism. We’ve all come across a Maya Angelou quote (or ten) in our lives and for many of us, she remains one of the literary greats.

She’s worked in almost every profession imaginable for a woman of her time and race. She’s travelled the world and championed the causes of those at the fringes of society. She’s been a journalist, an academic, a poet, an advocate – even a prostitute, if certain stories are to be believed!

Since high school, I’ve had one of her quotes up on my wall and referred to it often as motivation. It’s now in a journal of illustrations and quotes which I keep for inspiration.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.

She changed the way I looked at my place in society as a woman and alongside the work of Wangari Maathai, inspired me to look at the world through a special kind of lens and do what I could to change the way we treat those less fortunate, without patronising or condescending.

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.

She was fearless and unapologetic for her style, opinions and personality and I admired that so much.

She’s experienced unimaginable pain but also achieved great personal and professional successes. She lost her mother and her brother and almost lost her grandson. She’s won a Pulitzer and three Grammys. She always met criticism head-on and never backed down – you can’t imagine how inspiring that is for a teenager trying to build her identity!

Facebook has already started filling up with RIPs, photographs and thoughts. I thought I would blog about it because even though it’s not like the sort of posts you normally get from me, Maya Angelou inspired me. I drew from her work when I felt socially isolated in high school; when I needed a boost of courage to take on a challenge I wouldn’t otherwise accept; whenever I needed to feel inspired and in awe.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

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