Thank You, Maya » VSB

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Thank You, Maya

Maya Angelou

I did not know Maya Angelou. We never met. I never shook her hand. I never sat in a class she taught. I never attended a speech she gave. I knew who she was and what she looked and sounded like, but only because of what I saw in pictures and watched on TV.

But I knew her the same way I knew Ralph Wiley. And Ralph Ellison. And James Baldwin. And August Wilson. And the same way I know Toni Morrison. And Nikki Giovanni. And every other contemporary writer — from Wesley Morris and Chuck Klosterman to Chimamanda Adichie and Ta-Nehisi Coates — whose work I’ve consumed.

There’s an intimacy, a familiarity with writers and their readers unlike any other relationship. They allow us access to their lives. And not just their peripheral existences, but their deepest fears, their most uncomfortable memories, their subconscious motivations, their haven’t-yet-showered morning mirror reflections. They allow us to know them without us actually knowing them. They give us their lives. We give them our attention.

And, when a writer dies, they leave behind a dichotomous legacy that’s equal parts surreal and…tender. You mourn their death while appreciating the fact that their work — the thing that made them so vibrant, so kinetic, so alive — is immortal.

Maya Angelou died today. But Maya Angelou will always be here. She will continue to teach. She will continue to challenge. She will continue to inspire. She will continue to be.

I never met Maya Angelou. But I thank her for allowing me to know her.

—Damon Young

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Beautifully said; look no further than VSB, where we all have mourned losses, celebrated births and accomplishments and our only bond…is words.

    • pass me a tissue, dude.

  • fuzzydred

    My oldest daughter, who was 10 at the time, met her in 2010. My father took her to see her speak when she came to speak at FAMU. I don’t think my daughter fully understood who exactly she was, but she knew her face from my books. I hope my daughter remembers that evening for the rest of her life.

    Thank you for this beautifully written tribute to her.

  • Kinlabelle

    Thank you, Damon, for putting my thoughts and feelings into words. RIP sweet Mother Maya.

  • your child

    Priceless liturgy

  • thank you for this!

  • PaddyfotePrincess

    Sigh. Miss Maya. In 2007, she came to my hometown for a speaking engagement. My mother’s friend was her assistant and she arranged for us to meet her backstage. The next day Maya called my mom and said would you and your beautiful daughter spend some time with me before I leave? (WHAT?!) We go to the hotel lobby and she was wheeled in by one of her attendants a short time later. After greeting us, Miss Maya orders a Johnny Walker Black (WHAT?!) and proceeds to discuss everything – politics, the state of hip-hop, the black family, her experiences.
    As we sit in the hotel lobby, people walk by and do a double-take as they recognize her. She warmly waves them over and shakes their hand or hugs anyone who wants to meet her. I have always been in awe of her talent and spending a few hours with her that day is an experience that I will always treasure.

    • miss t-lee

      Lovely story, what a great experience.

      • PaddyfotePrincess

        It really was. Years before we met she personally autographed all of her books for me and meeting her was totally unexpected. To this day I’ve never had Johnny Walker Black, but I may try it, lol.

        • miss t-lee

          You gotta have a glass for her at some point! :)

          • PaddyfotePrincess

            Word. That was my first time hearing of Johnny Walker Black. I’m not sure if I’m grown enough to try it, but Imma go for it.

            • miss t-lee

              Serious biz.

  • SweetSass

    I’d die happy even having a fraction of the experiences she had.

  • beautiful sentiments…..even having grown up in England, her books lined our school shelves and we learnt about her throughout school. If I had a fraction of her resolve and talent, I would die happy.

  • MrsRDE

    Such a simple and beautifully-worded tribute that accurately depicts our connections to Maya Angelou and many other literary giants. Thank you for sharing this.

  • curiousGAJ

    Some people’s words motivate, agitate, envoke, & inspire. In kind, their readings result in the creation of new writers, poets, and voices. Dr. Angelou was special in that she possessed the gift to do both of these simultaneously.

    ‘Preciate the tribute, Champ.

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