I was so sad to hear about the passing of Maya Angelou. What an amazing woman she was. Everyone has a story about how she influenced them, and here’s mine.
When I was a little girl in second grade, my teacher told my mom that I had a “poetic voice” in the stories I wrote and she wanted me to tackle poetry. I was eight.
My mom told me this, and that was that. No one sat down with me and said, “Let’s explore some poets.” This was the Milwaukee Public School system in the turbulent 70s, so it wasn’t like anyone was trying to look for our gifts, spiritual, creative, or otherwise.
So when my teacher told my mom this, nothing changed. My teacher didn’t follow up and neither did anyone else. Still, this thought intrigued me. Poetry? I knew nothing about it. I still don’t, even though I’ve written six poetry books and have sold thousands over the last decade.
All I knew about poetry back then was that it was supposed to rhyme. (This was my eight-year old thought anyways.) I wrote a poem about a house and a mouse…and even at my young age, I knew it sucked.
I thought again. What do I want to write about? I’ve always thought poetry was a “God thing” for me, because I had no education and didn’t know what I was doing and yet almost from the beginning it meant something to me. I felt something.
From my second poem on, I wrote about my feelings, my life, and God. From the beginning, poetry began to change me. It gave me strength and allowed me to see hope and a life filled with promise.
But from then on, poetry became something I did in secret. I’d write poems and then rip them up. For years and years. I didn’t publish it. I didn’t celebrate it. Poetry was a way to help me cope with life.
Then, when I was getting ready for work one day, Bill Clinton’s inauguration was on in the background. And I heard Maya Angelou. The words she used… that voice… it drew me to the television. I watched with wonder as she read and when she’d finished “On the Pulse of Morning,” I was in tears.
It was only then, in my mid 20s, that I started reading other poets. I began with Maya Angelou, and didn’t stop until I’d read all her books.
A few years later, I’d finally stopped destroying my writing and published my first book, The Difference Now. (I explain more about this in my This I Believe essay).
Her teachings for tolerance and kindness continued to inspire me. What an amazing legacy! Even her final tweet reflected her faith and attitude:
“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”
RIP Maya Angelou. You will be missed.