We are saddened by the death of Maya Angelou, a writer whose life and work has been an inspiration to people the world over, and a woman from whose great capacity for friendship we’ve learned so much this year.
Regular readers of Something Rhymed will know that we profiled Angelou’s relationship with Toni Morrison back in February. Influenced by their championing of each other’s achievements, we set ourselves the task, on a much smaller scale, to follow their example.
We made lists of the things we admired about each other and developed them into pieces of creative work. Although we’d always considered our friendship to be a very open one, we were surprised by how many of the points we noted down we had never spoken of before.
It made us wonder how long we might have gone on silently appreciating, but never expressing, that we valued these qualities if we hadn’t paid attention to Angelou and Morrison.
When we discovered that Morrison would be appearing at Wales’s Hay Festival this year, we quickly bought tickets to hear her talk. We knew that she and Angelou had bonded years ago at Hay, when both women found themselves far away from home at a time when their mothers were ill. And so it felt particularly poignant that it was during yesterday’s festival session that many audience members (ourselves included) first heard that Angelou had died.
Morrison eloquently gave voice to the gasps that rippled through the vast tent when she spoke of her personal loss. ‘I thought she was eternal,’ she said. ‘I thought she always, always would be there.’
As writer friends ourselves, it is difficult to listen to language like this without wondering how one of us would cope in a similar situation, how we would feel if the person we’d come to rely on to such an extent was suddenly gone from our life.
Morrison, who called Angelou ‘a real original’, was understandably reluctant to say too much about her death. ‘It hurts so much that I have no treasurable, powerful, elegant words to say about that,’ she told the crowd. ‘I need time to talk about Maya. She was important in so many ways.’
But what struck us as we listened was the extent to which each of these women had already made significant efforts to commemorate the life of her friend.
Morrison’s speech in praise of Angelou at the USA’s most recent National Book Awards was a case in point, as was the party Angelou threw for her friend in 1993 – a response to what she saw as a lack of official national acknowledgement when Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
We are thankful for what we have learned from this literary pair: that it is important to celebrate the lives of our close ones, not just in fine tributes once they are gone, but also when they are still here.