maya angelou: a woman of substance and survival

This post is actually a combination of two I wrote in prior years on the life of one of my favorite writers, Maya Angelou.  The first was written on the day of her death in May, 2014, the second on August 12, 2018. Women’s History Month is the perfect time to repeat. If you haven’t read her works, I encourage you to add to your reading list now wherever you shelter in place around the world during these difficult days.

I love women.  I truly do.  No offense, guys, because some of my best friends are men.  But when push comes to shove and choices have to be made about the company I keep, I’ll choose a woman.  Every time.

One of my favorite women is Maya Angelou.  I treasure images of  book covers of her books I’ve read, images of the lines of her poetry and images of  her face and presence  on a television screen. I revere an image of  her on a presidential dais at the inauguration ceremony of American President Bill Clinton.  Images of her with Civil Rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leave an indelible mark on me because they are a reminder of her lifelong commitment to social justice issues and equal opportunities for all. Today when I heard she died at her home,  all those images flooded my mind.

But what I will miss most about this woman is what I hear and not what I see. The rich, slow – almost ponderous – rhythms of her speech mesmerized me, and the deep rumbling voice was like the sound of my old Dodge Dakota pickup truck’s muffler when I start it first thing in the morning.  Music to my ears.

In 1998 Maya Angelou spoke at the Second Annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner and the HRC Blog today posted an excerpt from her speech that evening on the importance of gay people coming out of the closet.  I lifted an excerpt from the excerpt.

You have no idea who you will inform because all of us are caged birds,

have been and will be again.

Caged by somebody else’s ignorance.

Caged because of someone else’s small-mindedness.

Caged because of someone else’s fear and hate…

and sometimes caged by our own lack of courage.


Maya Angelou was a woman with many gifts and abilities who had the courage to use them to lift us to higher ground and take us to a place we can all call home.  A renaissance woman, a legend in her own lifetime, a woman of substance – all these and more. I will miss her words and the voice that gave them life.

The words of Maya Angelou never cease to create feelings of admiration and awe for me… to the extent that my gosh- why- couldn’t- I- have- written- that paranoia kicks in. The little paperback I randomly picked up yesterday afternoon on an end table in our living room which Pretty now uses as her rescued books sorting room caught my attention because it was (a) small and (b) written by Maya Angelou. The book was titled Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now.

As I read the book yesterday afternoon, I was grateful to Pretty who always leaves priceless gems around for me to discover, pick up and savor. She knows my love for Maya Angelou and her works so I suspect it was no accident the book was in a conspicuous place…

My daddy used to tell me to avoid making comparisons to anyone else because there would always be someone who could do something better than I could or someone who wouldn’t be able to quite catch up to my abilities. Needless to say, Maya Angelou is in a category all by herself when the subject is personal essays, and I will never be able to quite catch up to the sheer poetry of her writing in these intimate stories. I can, however, read them with delight.

Many of her brief essays resonated personally with me probably because she published them in 1994 when she was 66 years old. The topics she covered as she described her own journey took me with her, and I cheered for her courage and power displayed vividly on every page. My mind meandered to the person I was in 1994 and how I would have reacted to this book when I was 48 years old. Would that white middle-aged lesbian activist understand what a blueprint Ms. Angelou’s journey could offer me when the storms of life were raging over the next quarter century of my life. I’m not sure.

Whether you are a youngster setting off on the journey, a middle-aged traveler  making plans for the next twists and turns, or in the third act of your life seeing the final bends and bumps in the road; I strongly recommend you treat yourself to Maya Angelou in this book or any other writings she’s done. I leave you with her thoughts on people.

“I note the obvious differences

between each sort and type,

but we are more alike, my friends,

than we are unalike.”

(Maya Angelou April 04, 1928 – May 28, 2014)

Stay tuned.



About Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is a personal historian, essayist with humorist tendencies, lesbian activist, truth seeker and speaker in the tradition of other female Texas storytellers including her paternal grandmother. In December, 2017, the University of South Carolina Press published her collection of first-person accounts of a few of the people primarily responsible for the development of LGBTQ organizations in South Carolina. Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home will resonate with everyone interested in LGBTQ history in the South during the tumultuous times from the AIDS pandemic to marriage equality. She has published five nonfiction books including two memoirs, an essay compilation and two collections of her favorite blogs from I'll Call It Like I See It. Her first book, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing received a Golden Crown Literary Society Award in 2008. Her writings have been included in various anthologies - most recently the 2017 Saints and Sinners Literary Magazine. Her latest book, Four Ticket Ride, was released in January, 2019. She is a displaced Texan living in South Carolina with her wife Teresa Williams and their dogs Spike, Charly and Carl. She is also Naynay to her two granddaughters Ella and Molly James who light up her life for real. Born in rural Grimes County, Texas in 1946 her Texas roots still run wide and deep.
This entry was posted in Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Random, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, sports, The Way Life Is and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to maya angelou: a woman of substance and survival

  1. Susanne says:

    I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read anything by Maya Angelou. You give me hope to know that she was a late bloomer in the writing game. Thanks, Sheila.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A fabulous writer and it’s high time we went back and read her all over again.

    Liked by 1 person

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