TIME U.S.

Maya Angelou Almost Had a Talk Show

US poet Maya Angelou reads a poem during
U.S. poet Maya Angelou reads a poem during a ceremony to present South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu of Cape Town the William J. Fulbright Prize for International Understanding on November 21, 2008, at the State Department in Washington. TIM SLOAN—AFP/Getty Images

Television writer and producer Norman Lear on his biggest regret: that the poet, who was godmother to his twin daughters, didn't get a nightly forum to connect with Americans.

At 91, I like to think I have no regrets. Not that I never wish I hadn’t said this or done that. Not that I haven’t made a slight mistake here and a more calamitous one there. But my basic philosophy is, if I’m happy in this moment — and I am — then I have to be at peace with everything that happened that got me to this moment. Then Maya Angelou passes on and suddenly I’m alive with a regret.

I met Maya in 1994 in New Orleans, where we were both speaking at a media conference. I immediately recognized her as one of the most spiritual people I’d ever encountered. As I watched her envelop and swallow her audience, I had an idea that instantly became an obsession: Maya Angelou should be the host of a late-night talk show. Not another show where guests would come on to plug their latest movie, diet book or fragrance, but rather one where they would talk about what gets them through their days.

Maya loved the idea, as she shared my belief that America was losing touch with the best of its humanity and felt that our spiritual lives were exciting fodder for a talk show. We worked on it for over a year and came close to bringing it to fruition, but ultimately it did not come to pass. And therein lies what may be my single true regret. If this spellbinding woman had been available to TV audiences five nights a week — in conversation with people with whom she wished to connect, discussing all of the “What’s it all about, Alfie?” questions — what a profound contribution to the culture that could have been.

Dr. Maya Angelou was a force of nature. Tall, elegant, precise and regal, with a voice that could roll back storms of distress and words so eloquently spiritual that unintended poetry would often fall out of her mouth. She walked into a room robed in her history, not just a caged bird that happened to sing, but a child who had been forced into that birdcage and, despite her circumstance, was determined to sing. “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot — it’s all there,” Maya wrote. “Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”

We are all the beneficiaries of Maya’s efforts in this regard. What she called her “positive experience” was a gift of inspiration and understanding for whomever she shared that experience with. My wife, Lyn, hit it off with Maya immediately, and when our twins Madeline and Brianna were born, Maya insisted on being their godmother. I mention this because nowhere did I see her desire for meaningful experience and connection expressed more fully than in her relationship to our children. She wasn’t able to see them often, but Maya made every moment count. I’d seen her offer herself to hundreds of people in a number of audiences over the years, but when Maya reached out to my kids with a bit of her love and essence, it was, as they would say where she came from, too wet to plow.

We Lears are better, spiritually richer, perhaps even taller for having “familied” — if it’s not a word, it should be — with the extraordinary Maya Angelou.

Norman Lear is the creator of All in the Family, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and the founder of People for the American Way. His memoir, Even This I Get to Experience, will be published by Penguin Books in October 2014.

TIME Music

Roberta Flack Remembers Maya Angelou: ‘We All Have Been Inspired’

Maya Angelou                                        1992
American poet and writer Maya Angelou shown on Dec. 15, 1992 in Washington. Doug Mills—AP

The acclaimed singer called Angelou a close friend as well as a collaborator — the two co-wrote a song for Flack's 1988 album, Oasis

R&B legend Roberta Flack remembers her close friend Maya Angelou, who died today at age 86, as a poet who inspired “generations [to] try harder and get up once more to fight for a better day, a better life and a better future.”

“Thank you for your wisdom, for your unfailing strength, your courage and your honesty which have moved people around this world to a better place,” Flack said in a statement provided to TIME. “We all have been inspired by you to not give up when we otherwise might have.”

The two artists weren’t just friends, they were also collaborators. Though Angelou is mostly known for her poetry, she had a brief music career as a singer-songwriter, releasing an album of calypso music in 1957, well before her writing career took off. For Flack’s 1988 album Oasis, Angelou co-wrote the song “And So It Goes.”

“Thank you Maya, my friend. Your steady heart, humor and humility have been a touchstone for me through our friendship that has spanned so much of my life. I appreciate the roads we have walked together as friends, as artists and as women sharing our hopes, dreams, defeats and sorrows. I will miss you, my friend. Good journey.”

TIME

Watch the World Thank Maya Angelou

This interactive shows how the world reacted to the death of Maya Angelou

Famed poet, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou died Wednesday at 86. The poet’s inspiring prose spread quickly on social media, as her fans tweeted notes of remembrance with the hashtag #ThankyouMaya.

The interactive above shows how the reaction to Angelou’s death spread on Twitter.

The interactive above shows how the world shared photos of Angelou on Twitter.

TIME Music

A Brief History of How Maya Angelou Influenced Hip Hop

Common greets Maya Angelou at a garden party at Angelou's home in 2010.
Common greets Maya Angelou at a garden party at Angelou's home in 2010. Nell Redmond—AP

The late poet told TIME last year that rap music kept her optimistic about the future of poetry

The renowned poet Maya Angelou, who died at age 86 today, was a major inspiration to the hip-hop community — Wu Tang Clan, Mary J. Blige and mogul Russell Simmons are among the celebrities who mourned her death on Twitter today. But Angelou’s relationship with rap runs deeper than just a few memorial tweets.

Tupac Shakur’s posthumous 1999 release Still I Rise (released as 2Pac+Outlawz) borrowed its title from Angelou’s poem of the same name; the rapper and the poet met on the set of the 1993 movie Poetic Justice, an experience that brought him to tears, as Angelou once told it:

“Years ago I did a movie called Poetic Justice, and there was a young man the first day who cursed so, I couldn’t believe it. I walked around, behind him, tried to ignore him. But the second day, he and another young man, [a] black man, ran to each other and were about to fight. Hundreds of extras started to run away. But one black man walked up to the two young men, and I walked up, and I took one by his shoulder. I said, ‘Let me speak to you.’ … He finally calmed down, and I said, ‘Do you know how much you are needed? Do you know what you mean to us? Do you know that hundreds of years of struggle have been for you? Please baby, take a minute.’ … I put my arm around him. He started to weep. The tears came down. That was Tupac Shakur. I took him, I walked him down into a little gully and kept his back to the people so they wouldn’t see him, and I used my hands to dry his cheeks.”

“Still I Rise” was also the title of a track on Nicki Minaj’s 2009 mixtape, Beam Me Up Scotty. Though the rapstress doesn’t name-check Angelou specifically, her lyrics about continually overcoming hardship match the themes of Angelou’s poem. There are plenty of others who do mention her explicitly, however: As XXL also points out, Angelou is referenced in a number of songs by Nas, Wale, Danny Brown, Lupe Fiasco, Jean Grae and The Roots.

Kanye West, too, has referenced Angelou throughout his career. The recently married rapper mentioned her on a 2002 remix of Talib Kweli’s “Get By” and on “Hey Mama” from 2005′s Late Registration. He also cited her as an inspiration alongside other greats in a 2010 blog post written several months before he released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy:

“We will follow in the same footsteps Maya Angelou, Gill Scott Herron [sic] and Nina Simone. Their work improved with time. They documented what was happening in culture. That is our responsibility as the modern day artists and poets, to accurately represent what is happening now, so when the powers that be try to rewrite history you can always look at our works and find truth and sincerity in a world of processed information.”

Common took his appreciation of the poet one step further by collaborating with her on his 2011 song, “The Dreamer,” which features Angelou reciting a poem toward the end of the track. (Similarly, Kendrick Lamar uses a recording of her voice on “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” from good kid, m.A.A.d city.) Angelou, however, wasn’t thrilled with Common’s final product: She told the New York Post that she was “surprised and disappointed” by Common’s use of the N-word on the song, which she hadn’t been warned about. “I don’t know why he chose to do that,” she said. “I had never heard him use that [word] before. I admired him so because he wasn’t singing the line of least resistance.”

Later, Angelou called into the BET program 106 & Park to clarify her feelings on the matter:

“I will not be divided from Common. By anybody’s imagination, he is brilliant and even genius, maybe. But certainly smarter than us to know that he’s in process. And next week, he might not even use the N-word or the B-word. It may even take two or three weeks, or a month. But I’m not going to be separated from him.”

Angelou believed that rap music was a portal for youth to discover poetry. As she put it in one old interview: “Take ‘A Negro Love Song’ by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Mr. Dunbar wrote this poem in 1892. It could have been written last week for Queen Latifah, or M.C. Hammer or L.L. Cool J or whoever they are.”

Last year, talking with TIME, Angelou said she was optimistic about the future of poetry.

“All I have to do is listen to hip-hop or some of the rappers.”

TIME Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s Arkansas: Dignity and Poverty in the Depression

African American Young cotton picker, Arkansas, circa 1935
A young African American Young cotton picker in Arkansas during the Depression. Buyenlarge/Getty Images

A Depression-era photo from Arkansas puts into extraordinary relief the life Maya Angelou led, and the distance she traveled in her time

Born in St. Louis, Mo., on April 28, 1928, the author Maya Angelou grew up in Stamps, Ark., witnessing the racial disharmony that defined the Jim Crow American South of her youth. There she cultivated the dignity and her own brand of quiet strength that would mark her writing and her activism for the rest of her life.

The picture above, of a young African-American cotton picker in an Arkansas field in the mid-1930s, is the sort of tableau that Angelou would certainly have encountered throughout her time in the South: namely, a child in rags, put to hard work at a tender age. The idea that this might well have been Maya Angelou’s fate — and that it was the fate of countless others — puts into stark relief the life she led, and the distance she traveled.

 

TIME Maya Angelou

In Memoriam: Celebrating The Life of Poet Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou died at the age of 86 in her North Carolina home Wednesday. The renowned author had been honored with more than 50 awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for her collected works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, most notably her groundbreaking memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

TIME The Brief

Suicide by Cop: Veteran Killed by Police After Being Turned Away From VA

Welcome to #theBrief, the four stories to know about right now—from the editors of TIME

+ READ ARTICLE

Here are the stories TIME is watching this Wednesday, May 28:

  • Poet, writer and Civil Rights activist Maya Angleou died in her home at the age of 86.
  • Iraq War veteran Isaac Sims was killed in a shootout by police after being turned away from a VA hospital in Kansas City.
  • Google unveiled a driverless car which has no steering wheel, no gas pedal and no breaks.
  • Get ready to hit “Like.” Bored teens in Quebec help find a kidnapped baby using Facebook.

The Brief is published daily on weekdays.

TIME remembrance

Watch Maya Angelou Read ‘Phenomenal Woman’

The poet reads her landmark poem this video which includes rare images of her as a young woman

American poet, memoirist and civil rights activist Maya Angelou died today. She’ll be remembered not only for the strength and conviction of her words, but also for the inspiration and wisdom she offered. Her work had particular resonance for women and the poem that may best represent that connection is “Phenomenal Woman,” which Oprah has called “life defining.” Published in a collection of the same name in 1995, the poem originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1978. Hear Dr. Angelou recite this landmark poem and see rare photos of her life as a young woman and later as a lauded poet.

TIME remembrance

Watch: Maya Angelou’s Most Powerful Quotes in 2 Minutes

A collection of the poet and author's most memorable speeches, poems and interviews

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Maya Angelou, a woman of many professions, was known primarily as a wordsmith: in poems, books, and speeches.

Angelou became an author at the age of 41 when she wrote her memoir I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings, which was followed by various works, ranging from autobiographies to children’s books and song lyrics for a musical. “I’ll probably be writing when the Lord says, “Maya, Maya Angelou, it’s time,” Angelou told TIME in 2013.

Angelou became the first black and first female inaugural poet in 1993 for President Clinton and left behind a strong legacy as a teacher and civil rights activist.

Watch above for some of Angelou’s most memorable quotes.

TIME Books

A Guide to Maya Angelou’s Most Beloved Books

Maya Angelou Signs Copies of "Maya Angelou: Letter to My Daughter" - October 30, 2008
Poet and Author Maya Angelou signs copies of "Maya Angelou: Letter to My Daughter" at Barnes & Noble in Union Square on October 30, 2008 in New York City. Jemal Countess--WireImage

The prolific poet and author passed away on May 28, 2014 at the age of 86. A look back at her most prominent works

Maya Angelou, who died Wednesday at the age of 86, was known for many things throughout her life: her wisdom, her acting, her indefatigable civil rights activism. But more than anything else, Angelou was famous for her writing. Both a prolific poet and memorist, Angelou penned more than two dozens books and collections throughout her life (including two cookbooks).

Despite the scale of her oeuvre, much of her work deals with reoccuring themes: love, heartbreak, family, race and feminism. Her books were critically-acclaimed and adored by many readers; here are some of the most notable works.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)

The first of seven autobiographical works, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Angelou’s most famous and critically acclaimed book. The story spans much of her childhood, following young Maya and her older brother as they bounce from their parents’ home to their grandmother’s and back again. Throughout the memoir, Angelou struggles not only with feelings of chronic displacement but also her experiences with racism, molestation and rape. Nominated for the National Book Award and named one of the All-TIME Best 100 Non-Fiction works (by this writer), Caged Bird was a revolutionary account of what it meant to be young, female and black in America.

Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (1971)

Angelou’s first collected work of poetry, Just Give was written largely before her first memoir was published, with many of the poems originating as song lyrics. (Angelou worked as a nightclub singer in her twenties.) The book is divided into two sections: Where Love Is a Scream of Anguish features poems about love, while Just Before the World Ends features poems about surviving as an African-American in a white society. The collection became a best-seller and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1972.

The Heart of a Woman (1981)

For her fourth memoir, Angelou recounts her life from the years 1957 to 1962, where she leaves California with her son, Guy, to move to New York. She finds herself amongst other black artists and writers, reading her work at the Harlem Writers Guild, and taking part in the civil rights movement. She also recounts falling in love with a South African freedom fighter, which led her to travel to London and Cairo, though ultimately the memoir isn’t about relationships — it’s about “a voyage into the self.” The book was praised by critics and — 16 years after it was first published — Oprah Winfrey selected Heart as an Oprah’s Book Club selection, which put it on the best-sellers list.

Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993)

The first of three essay collections, Wouldn’t Take Nothing is a collection of autobiographical pieces and homilies that Angelou was reportedly encouraged to write by her friend Oprah Winfrey. Together with her second collection of essays, Even the Stars Look Lonesome, which was published four years later, the essay collections were dubbed “Angelou’s wisdom books” in the New Yorker by Hilton Als.

Mom & Me & Mom (2013)

What would become Angelou’s final book was both her seventh memoir and the only work where she focuses on her relationship with her mother. Mom recounts much of the material found in Angelou’s earlier memoirs, but hones in on her mother’s role in the events of her life. Chronicling her mother’s abandonment of Angelou as a young child, the memoir also covers their reunion and reconciliation. The book ends with the death of her mother, along with Angelou’s final words to her: “You were a terrible mother of small children, but there has never been anyone greater than you as a mother of a young adult.”

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