Nikki Giovanni Remembers the Incredible Maya Angelou

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Poet, author and professor Nikki Giovanni remembered the renowned poet and activist Maya Angelou — who died Wednesday at her home — during an NPR broadcast Thursday.

“I don’t know anybody, and I really don’t, who has gotten as much out of life as Maya Angelou,” Giovanni told NPR’s Michel Martin.

Giovanni said Angelou never shared much about her past, but opened up in 1969 with the release of her famous I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It was the first in a series of memoirs that depicted her difficult childhood, which included the trauma of sexual abuse. Angelou spent much of her childhood in silence, refusing to speak.

“I think [Angelou] had a difficult childhood at the beginning and I think that the silence allowed her to absorb good stories,” said Giovanni. "You know, she was tough. I mean, her writing was very tough. And it is interesting how uplifting many people experience it because if you think about it, she was writing about some things that a lot of people didn't talk about - like being molested, for example, and also the struggle to get an education, and also some of the dynamics within her family that a lot of people would not necessarily want to talk about, at a time when a lot of people did not write about those things."

Giovanni said Angelou loved being alive, even as her aging body began to let her down.

"Maya had an embrace of life and it is rare, you know," said Giovanni. "Even I - I like being alive - but even I don't come anywhere near just that joy that she brought. There is an old Negro spiritual - he woke me up this morning and started me on my way. The Lord is blessing me. And I don't know anybody who thinks that but Maya. I mean, of all of the people that I know, I don't know anybody who has just that verve, that I am alive, and as long as I'm alive - she used to say that all the time. Say you know, and then your back hurts, and well, she says you know, as long as I am here it feels good. That is the way she is going to look at it."

Angelou always gave the perception that she had little awareness of her fame and impact, and Giovanni confirmed that perception.

“She did not want people feeling sorry for her. This is what I'm saying. And so a lot of the discomfort of her illness she did not share. She was not one of those people that is going to whine. As she said, if I am alive I am well and if I'm not alive then, you know. The one thing that I know Maya … would want is to know what’s being said now about her in her death … She would get the biggest kick."

You can listen to the full NPR interview here.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Pam Wright

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