Soul Bridge: Maya Angelou’s Legacy of Literature by Gordon Hays
“You said to call on Your name, and I’m calling. I’m stepping out on Your word” -Maya Angelou
Yesterday marked a very special anniversary. On April 4th, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. On that day in 1968, Maya Angelou was celebrating her 40th birthday. As the celebration of one influential Black woman’s life commenced, another important Black civil rights leader’s life ended. Maya Angelou lived for another forty-six years. And yet, a measurement of time cannot summarize a life. A set of years would not explain the impact and value of Angelou’s living experience and literary legacy. Eighty-six years cannot calculate the impact of Angelou’s written works, beyond the expanse of her life. Maya Angelou carries on. Angelou’s pages of poetry, literary works, films and music continue to educate, entertain and inspire. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe Maya Angelou acted as a soul bridge between generations, promoting peace and equality. With poetic grace, humility and moral strength, Angelou navigated the shifts in consciousness and social change surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and continued struggle for equality. Known for a writing process that included having a deck of cards and a crossword puzzle within arm’s reach, Angelou was an influential voice politically, personally and academically throughout the efforts for civil equality. Maya Angelou acted as a soul bridge, offering wisdom and encouragement through her writings, uniting racial and cultural differences through shared understanding, which demonstrate the positive ideals of an empowered African American woman.
It was while watching the 1993 film, Poetic Justice that I first encountered the words of Maya Angelou. In the film, Angelou’s powerful poem “Phenomenal Woman” is recited in voice over while Janet Jackson’s character is portrayed at home, immersed in an evening of solace. The sacredness of that moment in the film, combined with Angelou’s affirming poetry has continued to influence my thoughts and actions. Watching that film, and hearing Angelou’s words was a reminder of my own worth. I began to understand that I too have something to offer this world in my beautiful uniqueness. It may seem unlikely that the words of a black woman poet would resonate so deeply with a queer white man. But, that unlikely connection illustrates the manner in which Maya Angelou and her writings act as a soul bridge. Truth traverses the boundaries of race, culture, sexuality and class to unify the common thread of humanity and love. Angelou’s message of tolerance, acceptance and dignity demonstrate the enduring legacy of her literature.
Works Referenced, and Suggested Readings
Angelou, Maya. Maya Angelou Her Phenomenal Life and Poetic Journey. Ed. Vanessa K. Bush. New York: ESSENCE Books, 2014. Print.
Angelou, Maya. And Still I Rise. New York: Random House, 1978. Print.
Angelou, Maya. Letter to My Daughter. New York: Random House, 2009. Print.