The world lost one of its greatest authors, poets and thinkers of the 20th and 21st centuries with the death Wednesday of Maya Angelou.
Angelou was a standout among African-American intellectuals, often courted for commentary and speeches. She has spoken in the Kansas City area on several occasions and was to have been a feature speaker June 10 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
She has given outstanding lectures infused with poetry to packed audiences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2006 and William Jewell College in 1998. Listening to her speak is always enchanting.
Angelou, 86, had received many honors, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s coveted Spingarn Medal.
President Barack Obama in a prepared statement said: “When her friend Nelson Mandela passed away last year, Maya Angelou wrote that ‘No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again, and bring the dawn.’
“Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time — a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman. Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things — an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer.
“But above all, she was a storyteller — and her greatest stories were true. A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking — but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves. In fact, she inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya.
“Like so many others, Michelle and I will always cherish the time we were privileged to spend with Maya. With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer. And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, ‘flung up to heaven’ — and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.”
Former President Bill Clinton, who had Angelou recite a poem at his inauguration in 1993, said: “With Maya Angelou’s passing, America has lost a national treasure; and Hillary and I, a beloved friend. The poems and stories she wrote and read to us in her commanding voice were gifts of wisdom and wit, courage and grace.
“I will always be grateful for her electrifying reading of “On the Pulse of Morning” at my first inaugural, and even more for all the years of friendship that followed. Now she sings the songs the Creator gave to her when the river “and the tree and the stone were one.”
“Our deepest sympathies are with Guy and his family.”
The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta added: “Our nation and world have lost one of the great Renaissance women of this, or any age, Maya Angelou. Our hearts go out to her son, Guy Johnson, and to all of her family and friends.
“A prodigious writer, artist and thinker, Maya Angelou was also a woman of matchless compassion and an eloquent humanitarian activist and champion of the poor and oppressed of all nations. She supported Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and served the Civil Rights Movement as a fund-raiser and Southern Christian Leadership Center organizer.
“She was also a very close and trusted friend, to our Founder, Mrs. Coretta Scott King. The King Center was proud to present our Salute to Greatness Award to her in 1998 in recognition of her humanitarian work and contributions to society.
“Maya Angelou leaves a great and memorable blessing in the hearts of the millions whom she touched with her artistry; and, she leaves behind a luminous vision of hope that will inspire millions more for generations to come.”
Maya Angelou will be greatly missed.