Thoughts on the passing of the wonderful light that is Dr Maya Angelou
I was blessed to have seen Maya perform her one woman show in Lewisham Theatre in Catford. On stage she was everything I dreamt she would be. This was the days before the internet and before YouTube. We had no easy way to access video recordings as we do now. The auditorium was packed full of adoring fans, inspired by her message of strength, valour, love and hope. The theatre was packed full of love and Maya was the heartbeat.
The show was snippets of her fascinating life story interspersed with anecdotes, poetry, and song and dance. Part performance, part poetry reading, part college lecture and part family gathering. Just like the phenomenal woman herself, the show was a whirlwind of spirit energy and incandescent light and left everyone feeling uplifted, inspired and happy to be in the presence of this wonderful woman’s travelling shoes. Reading Maya recount stories of her much loved grandmother singing ‘I Will Not Be Moved’ lit a fire in me, but then seeing that energy translated onto the stage as Maya channeled the phenomenon that was her proud and strong grandmother actually singing it for us live was quite something else. The acorn clearly didn’t fall far from the oak.
Some few years later she came back to perform at Lewisham again. And once again I went to the show. This time however I left sadly disappointed. The show was essentially the same as the previous performance and yet so seamless had Maya’s previous performance been, that I’d not actually been aware that what I’d witnessed the first time round was in fact pure theatre.
Of course I’d known that Maya Angelou had been a dancer and an actor but the heart of the woman had shone so brightly from every page of her beautifully written books that I’d not realised how wonderfully accomplished she was as a performer. It took me seeing her perform twice to actually see the craft itself – and only then because what I saw was a repetition of the exact same sterling performance.
Of course I’m mindful that nobody would think twice about seeing a Michael Jackson show and expecting the second performance to be somehow completely different.
Many years ago in my early 20s my friend Fiona Quinn introduced me to Maya Angelou by buying me ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ for my birthday. It may well have been my 21st birthday. And what a birthday present! Up til then my desire to read had been stifled by the process of doing English A Level some few years before (albeit at that point it felt like a whole lifetime had gone past between leaving school shortly before 19 and landing there at 21). Such were the demands of analysing the text and reading for the purpose of education that I could no longer simply pick up a book for recreational purposes any more. The simple act of reading Maya Angelou changed all that forever. Such was the richness of Maya’s writing and the detailed drawing of characters and life story that I, like many others before, after and during me, became hooked and spent what felt like a lifetime afterwards devouring every ounce of love and laughter, joy and sorrow, success and failure along Maya’s by now famous life story. And what a story.
I would recommend that anyone who hasn’t yet had the joy to discover Maya’s work goes out and buys or borrows a copy of ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’, settles down in a comfy chair in a quiet corner with a nice hot drink and simply turns the first page. I promise, the journey will move you and inspire you.
Maya has a way of turning life into poetry; a way of teaching your spirit how to levitate far above the weight of the man-made world. A way of liberating your soul from the shackles of perception and helping us slip into the realm of the human.
Bless you, Maya. You will be forever in my heart, my mind and my soul. Without knowing me you reached out and said ‘I know’ and encouraged me to soar as surely as a mother might a child and I will always love you.
God Bless. And Rise! X