By Angela Bukur
Poet. Civil rights activist. Dancer. Film producer. Television producer. Playwright. Film director. Author. Actress. Professor. These words are only a few titles that Maya Angelou accumulated throughout her 86 years of life. Maya’s accomplishments in publishing seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, being credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than fifty years, and receiving dozens of awards and over thirty honorary doctoral degrees merely begins to describe the extraordinary Maya Angelou’s impact while on this Earth.
While no amount of accomplishments or number of titles can measure the way a person can affect others, Maya did immensely through her literary works, activism, and leadership. One way she did this was through her autobiographies. Her literary works have been greatly used in narrative and multicultural approaches to start conversations in the education system. Not only have these works been used in curricula, but they have been used for all kind of people in order to help define challenging life issues of racism, White privilege, effects of abuse, friendship and family relations, gender issues, puberty, identity formation, self-concept etc. Through this, Maya contributed to the opening up of a space where people can come together in community to begin to talk about issues and start conversations between all types of people.
Through the writing of her autobiography, Maya became recognized and highly respected as a spokesperson for Blacks and for women, which made her America’s most visible Black woman autobiographer. Scholar Hilton Als said that, “Up to that point, Black female writers were marginalized to the point that they were unable to present themselves as central characters in the literature they wrote.” In combating this, Maya accepted the role as an influential leader and as a spokesperson in order to build up marginalized communities.
Throughout the difficulty and success Maya endured during her life, she depicted the inherent strength and determination of a leader that was time and time again expressed through her literary works and activism for over thirty years. As writer Gary Younge said, “Probably more than almost any other writer alive, Angelou’s life literally is her work.”
She will be missed through her contributions but more importantly her voice in society. She once said, “Love life. Engage in it. Give it all you’ve got. Love it with a passion because life truly does give back, many times over, what you put into it.”