Maya Angelou: Five gifts she left the world

Published 07 June 2014  |  
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Maya Angelou

"It's one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody." It's for quotes like this that civil rights leader Maya Angelou has left an indelible mark upon the world.

Having received international acclaim for her literary canon, as well as being celebrated for her involvement in the US Civil Rights Movement, Angelou passed away at her home in North Carolina aged 86 last Wednesday, 28 May.

A memorial service is taking place today at Wake Forest University where she taught for the past three decades. Here are just five of the many gifts she left us.

  1. I know why the caged bird sings. A celebrated piece of literature, this was Angelou's first autobiography – she went on to pen a further six. 'Caged bird' explores the effect that being raped as a young girl had on Angelou, and she became known as a mouthpiece for African Americans growing up in a divided US.
  2. "Be present in all things, and thankful for all things." Long before viral videos told us to look up from our phones and enjoy the fullness of life rather than let it pass us by, Angelou encouraged us to really be present in our daily lives. She reminded us to stop waiting for things to happen, and enjoy the season we're in.
  3. Her faith. Angelou often drew on her steadfast faith in her writing, and was always quick to attribute her creativity to God. She is quoted: "Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good".
  4. Her role in the Civil Rights Movement. One of the most powerful movements in history; civil rights activists paved the way for equality in the modern world. Angelou enjoyed friendships with Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, and is attributed as having a "pivotal" role in transforming racist attitudes. According to Carol E Neubauer, author of 'Sothern women writers: the new generation', Angelou became "recognized not only as a spokesperson for blacks and women, but also for all people who are committed to raising the moral standards of living in the United States".
  5. Her laughter. Despite a childhood marked by suffering, Angelou relentlessly shared the importance of laughter. "I never trust people who don't laugh...if you've come to make a difference, you laugh as often as possible," she shared in an interview in 2010. Watch the rest of it here:

The memorial service today is private, though it will be streamed online here beginning at 10am. Her family is said to be organising "additional celebrations of her life" to be held across the US, which will be confirmed at a later date.

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