Maya Angelou died last week at the age of 86. Both mainstream and alternative news sources were filled with tributes to her. Author, actress, screenwriter, film director, singer, dancer, poet, teacher, and activist, she read extensively and mastered French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. Among her 50 awards are three Grammys, the Presidential Medal of the Arts, the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal, and the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Of her more than 30 books, the most famous may be I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her 1969 memoir that has never been out of print.
From the Newsweek review:
“Miss Angelou’s book is more than a tour de force of language or the story of childhood suffering: it quietly and gracefully portrays and pays tribute to the courage, dignity and endurance of the small, rural Southern black community in which she spent most of her early years in the 1930s.”
President Obama honored her at her death:
“Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things … 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.”
Former President Bill Clinton joined President Obama with his own admiration:
“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.”
Tragically, some of the conservative media, notably writers for the National Review. could not bring them to produce even a modicum of respect for this grand woman. Jonah Goldberg only referenced her treatment on The Simpsons. Tim Cavanaugh’s article, entitled “R.I.P., Maya Angelou, Proud Gun Owner and User,” described her recitation of her non-rhyming poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at Bill Clinton’s inauguration as “a slog.” His article describes Angelou’s books as dispensing “sound if unspectacular wisdom of the type that is said to boost children’s self-esteem.”
Former National Review contributor John Derbyshire posted denigrated Angelou on the White Nationalist site VDARE. Despite never reading any of Angelou’s works, he lumps her with other blacks, including Attorney General Eric Holder, as “talentless … Affirmative Action mediocrit[ies].”
Even the Houston Fox affiliate showed this distasteful announcement of Angelou’s death:
“MAYA ANGELOU DEAD AT AGE 86
CANCELS HOUSTON APPEARANCE ON FRIDAY”
Fortunately, not all conservatives are uneducated philistines. Politically conservative blogger at Red States, Erick Erickson, wrote this eulogy for the noted artist:
“I am pretty sure that Maya Angelou and I would disagree on much politically, but I’d stand still on a hot bed of coals to hear her tell me she disagreed. I loved her mind and I loved her voice.
“I grew up in Dubai…. In college, a very liberal professor of mine encouraged me to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to find some understanding of an experience I was largely ignorant of just by virtue of growing up in a different country. It might have been a more controversial book if I were younger, but in college I found it deeply moving and honest. I do not say that to be trite or clichéd. The book is deeply personal and humbling. It has a rhythmic quality to it that Maya Angelou herself had.
“Her writings helped me connect to others, other times, and issues I have had difficulty relating to.
“She was of the left. I am of the right. But her voice could sing a spoken harmony of words that calmed souls, lit fires, and made the mind dance. Her voice had strength in it that those of us who might disagree with her on issues could still connect to.
“Even before I took a job in radio, I paid attention to voices. Being partly deaf … certain voices have always resonated with me. They fix in my mind and draw me to some people in a way the same words from a different voice would not. Paul Harvey was one of the first voices with that effect on me. Maya Angelou’s voice was one of the first female voices that did the same.
“I have learned over the years, particularly during my time at CNN, that one can have friendships with those whose life, issues, politics, or values do not align with my own. I had a friendship with Maya Angelou’s beautiful voice. I could listen to her read a grocery list and it would be an emotional event.
“I never met Maya Angelou. But I admired her from afar. Some people are just worthy of praise, regardless of their positions, convictions, or titles. We should not be so counter-cultural to the present culture and politics that we as conservative are not willing to recognize that caged bird sang a melody worth humming along to even when we didn’t care for the words.”
In observing the passing of this great woman, I wish to pass along this quotation that resonates with me: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
Her critics above have the passion; may they learn to develop the other three parts of success.