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Honeysuckle: A Song for Maya

The internet is clicking with the announcement of Maya Angelou’s passing, a communal wave of mourning and tribute. A passing, not a death. Somehow, there’s a difference. We are forced to stop our daily activities and ponder her life, her contribution.

Like Pete Seeger, whose memorial I attended last week, her quotes are quotable, and she will be remembered for her pithy no-nonsense sentences, her courage, and her commanding presence. I saw her read once from one of her six volumes of autobiography and was mesmerized by the performance: a resonant voice unspooled rich prose poetry until it was alive in the air, a gift to the audience. Charisma.

Maya Angelou—and we can only say her full name, so iconic did she become in her lifetime—used the context of her personal life struggle within a rapidly de-segregating America as her subject. Is the work memoir? Not exactly. Autobiography? Not exactly. American history? Not exactly. Perhaps all three, and more.

On the question of courage, she never wavered. Courage and sweetness both. Write from the heart and the head, she suggested. Allow the memories to effloresce and transform into writing. Like the honeysuckle on the path, let the sweetness transform the harsh memory into writing. Let everything—the pain and the joy—become your Proustian madeleine.
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