One of America’s most beloved poets and activists, Maya Angelou, 86, died this morning at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
A civil rights and women’s rights activist, Angelou served as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University until her death.
Host Frank Stasio talked with Marcia Ann Gillespie, friend of Angelou and author of the biography, Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration (Doubleday/2008). Gillespie interviewed her friend in 2011 for Essence Magazine.
Gillespie fondly remembered enjoying meals at Angelou's house. "She loved having people around: people enjoying themselves- people sitting at tables, telling stories."
On one occasion, Angelou spontaneously started reciting Robert Burns to her dinner guests. "You could see her delight in his words. It was in her face. It was in her eyes. It was in her voice itself," Gillespie said. "What knocked me out about Maya was she had this amazing ability: She remembered word-for-word those words that mattered to her- not just her words, but the words of others."
Gillespie recalled hearing the poem Angelou would read at President Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration, "On The Pulse of Morning." She read it to Gillespie over the phone before the event. "By the time she finished, I was in tears and really silenced," Gillespie said. "I really almost didn't know what to say I was so stunned and in awe of her. And finally she said, 'Did you like it?' I said to her, 'There are no words. It is extraordinary. You're extraordinary.'"