“When it looked like it wouldn't stop raining, God put a rainbow in the clouds.”
While sitting in her wheelchair after receiving a National Book Award for ‘Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community,’ the 85-year-old poet and essayist Maya Angelou enraptured the crowd by singing the biblical verse.
With an elegant smile on her face, she told the room full of writers, publishers, and editors, “You are the rainbow in my clouds.” She offered her gratitude for conferring the great honor upon her, an honor which she truly deserved.
Maya Angelou was one of America’s most beloved writers of her generation. Apart from being an outstanding author and poet, she was an accomplished actor, director, producer, and a playwright. Her contribution to the Civil Rights movement and the cause of human rights in general is immense and immeasurable.
From being raped at the age of eight to working as a pimp and a prostitute, her life had been full of pain and hardships. However, despite of all her troubles, she rose from her impoverished roots to soaring heights of global recognition where few have ever ventured. Her first autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969, remains one of her most recognized works till date.
“To know her life story is to simultaneously wonder what on earth you have been doing with your own life and feel glad that you didn't have to go through half the things she has,” wrote Gary Younge, in a Guardian article.
Angelou had worked with both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement. She also won three Grammy Awards for spoken-word recordings of her poetry. In 1993, the then president-elect Bill Clinton invited her to read an original poem at his inauguration. She was only the second poet in history to do so, after Richard Frost.
“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,” said Arnold Rampersad, a literary critic and professor emeritus of English at Stanford University. “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.”
Angelou passed away, at age 86, on Wednesday, the 28th of May, at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. While her writings will continue to inspire generations, the rainbow that God had put in our clouds will be no more.
Here are some of Maya Angelou's best quotes:
1. “All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.”
2. "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
3. "You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot - it's all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive."
4. "One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest."
5. "My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style."