CHARLESTON, W. Va. – With the passing of legendary American poet Maya Angelou the state’s authority on poetry paused to reflect on her life and work.
“She’s certainly a towering figure in American letters,” Marc Harshman, West Virginia’s poet laureate said.
Even in her old age her enthusiastic demeanor made her passing shocking to Harshamn.
“She always seemed such a vibrant, full of life person that I had no idea of how old she was or even that she was ill.”
Angelou was known for her many works as an actress, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs, but was mostly known for her poetry.
What made her stand out and resonate with American readers was her rise from struggle, outlined in her autobiography “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” working various jobs as a young woman, including fry cook, San Francisco’s first black streetcar conductor, night-club dancer and prostitute.
“I am in awe of all that she accomplished in her life from such difficult circumstances in her young life,” Harshman said. “To have overcome all that and become a poet, a screenwriter, an author.”
Her works highlighted racism and the civil rights movement and her emotions almost leap from the page.
“Passion to have the world set right, one can only admire a person of such grit and commitment.”
While Harshman and the world of literature mourn her passing, it is now a time to celebrate Angelou’s legacy.
“One hates to think of a figure like Maya Angelou passing,” he said. “It’s certainly a time to pause, reflect, rejoice and celebrate the life that she did give to us, the life she especially gave to us in her writing.”
Angelou passed away on Wednesday at the age of 86 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.