Dr. Maya Angelou died today at the age of 86. If you have the internet (which, evidently, you do) you already know this, that the world lost a brilliant and earth-bending mind. But what you might not realize is that this 86-year-old woman has a lot to say to you. Yes, you specifically! You twenty-something, college-educated human with the thrill and absolute terror of everything before you, Dr. Angelou has a wealth of wisdom for you at this particular moment in your life. Here are three particularly lovely pieces:
1. “To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision.”
From I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Read it? If not, go now (right now) and get a copy.
2. “I was at 20th Century Fox as their first black female director/producer…And the men came in, about four or five, they call them the Suits…They came in and they strutted around and they paunched and they preened. And suddenly, and they let go a racial pejorative. Now it had nothing to do with any of us in the room. But somebody did denigrate the race of somebody else. So I said, excuse me I’m sorry, you can’t use that word in my office. They said, oh come on, you know, we don’t mean, I said but no you can’t use it. I know it’s poison. I know that it goes into the wallpaper and into the carpet, into the upholstery, into my clothes and finally into me. I won’t have it.”
Maya Angelou gave 18 commencement addresses. This is from one in 2011 at Holton-Arms School (you can read the whole thing here). Dr. Angelou spoke often about the power of words and truly lived what she taught—proof in the badass anecdotal pudding.
Everybody’s read “And Still I Rise,” or at least can recognize the last two lines of that first stanza. But to hear it in Maya Angelou’s musical, commanding voice is something else entirely. Enjoy.