By Jana Persky
The passing of renowned writer Maya Angelou sparked discussion and remembrance across campus Wednesday.
On the Diaspora mailing list, the self-described “virtual soul of the Black Community at Stanford,” an email thread developed in which students and faculty shared thoughts about and quotes from Angelou’s work.
“Maya Angelou was a symbol of empowerment for black women and truly celebrated our inner spirit through her eloquent words,” wrote one post. “No one could explain it quite like she could.”
Angelou was a memoirist and poet best known for her autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which was published in 1969. The book recounted Angelou’s childhood growing up in Arkansas.
Angela Farr Schiller, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of theater and performance studies, noted the significance of a woman of color writing about her personal experiences in the Jim Crow South.
“It says that I have something to say that is of value and I’m going to be responsible for telling the story,” Schiller said. “That she writes in that genre [of autobiography], as well as many other genres, is important for any kind of people, but especially groups that are marginalized or framed as not important in the world.”
“When you learn, teach, when you get, give.” RIP Maya Angelou, poet, author & educator
— Stanford Education (@StanfordEd) May 28, 2014
Angelou at Stanford
During her life, Angelou spoke at Stanford on several different occasions.
On February 7, 1972, three years after her book came out, Angelou gave a talk titled “Black American Contributions to the American Way of Life” at Memorial Auditorium.
“Angelou kept the diverse audience spellbound,” The Daily wrote at the time. “Her deep commanding voice made several points, illustrating some with her poetry, which largely reflects the black experience of the event.”
Angelou returned to Memorial Auditorium as part of the 1997 Black Liberation Month celebration, and later addressed an audience of more than 2,000 people at a Palo Alto theater in July 1993.
In February 2001, Angelou recited poems and sang a gospel song in a performance dedicated to the importance of African-American poetry, filling “Memorial Church with humor and hope, encouragement and song,” according to The Daily’s account of the event.
Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise. #RIPMayaAngelou
— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) May 28, 2014
Earlier this year, Stanford students paid tribute to Nelson Mandela through a video recitation of Angelou’s poem “His Day is Done.”
“She brought an understanding of the dilemmas and dangers and exhilarations of black womanhood more to the fore than almost any autobiographer before her time,” Arnold Rampersad, a professor emeritus of English, told The Washington Post. “She challenged assumptions about what was possible for a poor black girl from the South, and she emerged as a figure of courage, honesty and grace.”
Contact Jana Persky at jpersky ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.