Remembering Poet, Author Maya Angelou

Poet, writer and activist Maya Angelou died on May 28, at the age of 86 in her home in Winston-Salem, N.C. Read what local leaders and artists recall about her impact, presence on the world's stage. 

Reflections on a great writer and poet: Here's what people had to say about Maya's passing. 

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Mayor Rahm Emanuel:
“Today, the thoughts and prayers of the people of Chicago join countless millions around the world in mourning the passing of Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou was a true national treasure. Through poetry, song, dance, and the spoken word, Dr. Angelou gave voice to generations of Americans and became an unstoppable force for peace, civil rights, and social justice.

I will always be honored to have been present when she delivered her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Clinton’s first inauguration, which was a call for inclusion and extending economic security to all Americans.

It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to Dr. Angelou but we take comfort in the knowledge that her voice will live on forever and inspire future generations working to build a more peaceful and compassionate world.”

Andrea L. Zopp, president and CEO, of the Chicago Urban League:
“Dr. Maya Angelou rose above a life of poverty and abuse to become one of the world’s most beloved and respected writers and speakers. She challenged us to look beyond the
characteristics we use to discriminate against each other, and encouraged us to find humanity in everyone.

“In a career that spanned several decades, Dr. Angelou’s autobiographies, volumes of poetry and roles on stage and screen enlightened the world. As an activist for women and the disenfranchised, Dr. Angelou inspired us to challenge the status quo and demand equality and access to educational and economic opportunities. She was honored by US Presidents and treated as a dignitary throughout the world.

“The Chicago Urban League joins the world in mourning her loss. Although she is no longer with us, Dr. Maya Angelou’s rich legacy of books, poetry, performances and powerful speeches will forever remain as a testament to her phenomenal life and career.” 

Below is a Q&A with local filmmaker Bob Hercules. He is co-owner of the Media Process Group. Hercules is working on a documentary along with co-director Rita Coburn Whack. The two are wrapping up their film covering the life and works of Maya Angelou for the PBS Series American Masters. The documentary is tentatively titled, “Maya: The People’s Poet.”

Bob Hercules, far left, Rita Coburn Whack, Keith Walker, right, and Maya Angelou at her house in N.C. last January

Photo by Christopher Howard

Q: As an artist and filmmaker how do you view Maya’s impact on not just artists but all of us, what are the lessons we can take away from her works?

Her impact will continue on for many generations. Maya was blunt and stark in describing the Jim Crow South she came from and her style resonated with many.

She was a single parent and she overcame a lot of hardships but yet her message was positive. She kept rising and rising and not falling to anger or keeping a grudge.

The single lesson Maya gave us was to simply rise to the challenges and not be victims (even when you’re put at a disadvantage).

Q: Besides the obvious reasons, why did you decide to follow and develop a film on Maya Angelou?

I’m attracted to political issues and Maya was the perfect marriage of an activist and artist and the whole creative process.

Q: What was your initial impression of Maya at your first meeting?

I was little overwhelmed at first but … she was down to Earth, pleasant and warm so that my guard [or anxiety] came down immediately.

Q: In summary, what will be the attributes or characteristics about Maya that will get passed down as you see it? 

Sheer persistence, "And still I Rise," her notion that you must continue on. She fought against racism, she had a child at 16-years of age, she was raped at an early age.  And “Still I Rise,” she carried on and accomplished what many of us will never come close to. 

She lived 12 lives. Nobody has done the amount of work and variation of projects that Maya has accomplished.

Q: Any last thoughts or impressions in doing the documentary?

At the Wake Forest University Archive (where she left her notes, files and documents,  I was struck by the copious amounts of boxes and boxes of legal note pads that she used and had notes written.  It was literally a visual confirmation of all the work Maya had done.  

--Stephanie Williams contributed to this report. 
This interview was condensed and edited for publication.

Below revisit Maya Angelou's speech from the 1989 Golden Apple Awards: 

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors