That she had “learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” is
Despite falling in love with words at a young age when her voice left for five years after being sexually abused, Maya Angelou did not become a career wordsmith until 1969, at the age of 40.
Before then, she had lived a life that created perfect fodder for the emotions and realities she would spend the remaining years documenting.
Here are 5 things you should know about Maya Angelou.
1. She was an editor at an English Language newspaper in Egypt :
Before Maya chose to tell her own stories, she was telling stories of colonialism and local life as a journalist in Egypt. During her travels in her early 30s, the writer passed through Egypt where she married a civil rights activist named Vusumzi Make.
“We married and then moved to Cairo, in Egypt. That was where I got my job as an editor for the Arab Observer”, she wrote on her website.
At the time, her knowledge of journalism was limited but through the help of David Du Bois, step-son of the famous W.E.B Du Bois she got the job.
Being the only black-American, non-muslim woman on the job made it endlessly difficult. But with time, Angelou was able to hone her storytelling abilities with help from Abdul-Hassan and Eric Nemes, the in-house layout artist. She left the Observer a year later.
2. She won three Grammy Awards and has five nominations
Maya Angelou has won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word album on three occasions; in 1993 for “On the Pulse Of the Morning”, in 1995 for “Phenomenal Woman” and 2002 for “A Song Flung Up To Heaven”.
Her creative talent has also been appreciated in other fields where words are not the primary medium. In 1973, for instance, she was nominated for a Tony Award for her portrayal of “Elizabeth Keckley” in Jerome Kilty’s 1972 play, 'Look Away'.
3. She once had a very emotional conversation with Tupac Shakur
For most casual fans of hip-hop, Maya Angelou’s most notable infraction into hip-hop came when she met the legendary Tupac Shakur on the set of John Singleton’s “Poetic Justice” in 1992.
As the story goes, the poet was stepping out of her trailer when she saw an angry young man in an argument. Even though he was visibly agitated, she approached him and asked, “When was the last time anyone told you how important you are?”
She told him of his ancestry, the travails of Africans who had been forced on slave ships to America and later, to work on plantations, and the black man’s journey to where he had come. Her stories drove Tupac to tears.
4. She has had a profound influence on hip-hop
Dr Angelou’s influence on hip-hop goes far beyond calming Tupac down.
Over the years, contemporary hip-hop artistes have drawn inspiration from her moving poetry. Nicki Minaj and Tupac both have songs titled “Still I Rise”, ostensibly named after her poem of the same title about hate directed towards black women.
Her way with words has also led many artistes to attempt to carve or see themselves in a similar likeness. Wale and Danny Brown have compared their earlier, more artistic years to Maya Angelou’s years finding her words with just a notebook.
When Kanye West was asked to describe his ideal poet, he was too quick to mention Maya Angelou, whose beauty he also complimented by describing Nina Simone’s Piano flow, as “like Michelangelo painted a portrait of Maya Angelou”
5. She found poetry when sexual abuse rendered her mute for five years
Three years after she was born, the marriage between Maya Angelou's parents ended, and along with her siblings, she was sent to live with her paternal grandmother in Arkansas.
Four years later, she was sent again to live with her mother. At the age of eight, her mother's boyfriend sexually abused her, rendering her mute for five years.
Although he was murdered not long after, probably by Angelou's uncles, Maya was later quoted as saying, "I thought, my voice killed him: I killed the man, because I told his name.
And then I thought I would never speak again because my voice could kill anyone". It was during this period that Maya developed an extraordinary love for words in literature, and a keen, observant eye.
She also credits a friend of the family, a Mrs Bertha Flowers, who introduced her to the work of Poe, Shakespeare, Dickens and black female artists like Frances Harper, Anne Spencer and Jessie Fauset.