America Mourns Its 'Fierce' Poet

Luminaries lines up to pay homage to Maya Angelou

By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff

Posted May 28, 2014 1:58 PM CDT

(Newser) – Writer, inaugural poet, storyteller, mentor, civil rights activist, Grammy winner, journalist, streetcar conductor, and even madam—Maya Angelou wore a vast rainbow of hats during her 86 years, and Americans wasted no time today in paying homage to the fiercely eloquent force of nature. Without ado:

  • President Obama: Citing "a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman," Obama noted that his own sister is named for the poet, who "above all, was a storyteller—and her greatest stories were true. 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."

  • President Clinton: "America has lost a national treasure; and Hillary and I, a beloved friend. I will always be grateful. The poems and stories she wrote and read to us in her commanding voice were gifts of wisdom and wit, courage and grace."
  • Oprah Winfrey: "I've been blessed to have Maya Angelou as my mentor, mother/sister, and friend since my twenties. She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life. The world knows her as a poet but at the heart of her, she was a teacher. 'When you learn, teach. When you get, give,' is one of my best lessons from her. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace. I loved her and I know she loved me. I will profoundly miss her. She will always be the rainbow in my clouds."
  • Over at Slate, Dee Lockett reminds us that "Angelou’s talents extended well beyond the written and spoken word." In the '50s, Angelou was an aspiring singer and dancer who eventually recorded an album, Miss Calypso, which in turn inspired her first film, Calypso Heat Wave.
  • At Salon, Laura Miller lauds Angelou as "the voice of America," a poet who even had a line of Hallmark cards for which she was mocked, "but the public adored her and found in her words both wisdom and comfort. Angelou’s is a style that lends itself well to the realm of social media, with its informal habit of sharing and passing along quotations and mottos."

This Feb. 15, 2011 file photo shows President Obama kissing author and poet Maya Angelou after awarding her the 2010 Medal of Freedom.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
In this April 5, 2014 photo, Cicely Tyson, Maya Angelou, and Oprah Winfrey pose at Angelou's portrait unveiling at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.   (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)
In this March 29, 2002 photo, Maya Angelou speaks at her home in Winston-Salem, NC.   (AP Photo/Winston-Salem Journal, David Rolfe)
In this Nov. 21, 2008 file photo, poet Maya Angelou smiles at an event in Washington.   (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
In this April 18, 2008 photo, Hillary Clinton holds hands with Maya Angelou as they are applauded following a program at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC.   (AP Photo/Winston-Salem Journal, Lauren Carroll)
In this Nov. 3, 1971 file photo, Maya Angelou poses with a copy of her book, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," in Los Angeles.   (AP Photo/File)
In this April 11, 1983 file photo, Sen. Ted Kennedy, with, from left, Jane Bryant Quinn, Maya Angelou, and Mary McGrory.   (AP Photo/File)
In this 2006 file photo, Maya Angelou speaks during the funeral services for Coretta Scott King at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.   (AP Photo/Jason Reed, Pool, File)
In this 2010 file photo, poet Maya Angelou greets director Lee Daniels at a garden party in honor of Angelou at Angelou's home in Winston-Salem, NC.   (AP Photo/Nell Redmond, File)
Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou at the ringing of the Nasdaq opening bell in New York. Angelou was a mentor to Winfrey, whom she befriended when Winfrey was still a local television reporter.   (AP Photo/Nasdaq, Rob Tannenbaum, File)
In this July 27, 2004 file photo, Maya Angelou speaks during the Democratic National Convention in Boston.   (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)
In this June 25, 2011 file photo, Maya Angelou speaks during the 9th Annual Maya Angelou Women Who Lead Luncheon in Charlotte, NC.   (AP Photo/Charlotte Observer, Maureen A. Coyle, File)
First lady Michelle Obama helps BET honoree Maya Angelou stand after receiving the Literary Arts Award during the BET Honors, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012.   (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Martha Stewart poses with Dr. Maya Angelou in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008. Stewart presented Angelou with the Martha Stewart Living Legend Award.   (AP Photo/The Martha Stewart Show, Anders Krusberg)
Desmond Tutu hugs Maya Angelou as she delivered a tribute to him at the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding Award Ceremony, Friday, Nov. 21, 2008.   (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
In this Jan. 20, 1993, photo, President Clinton gets ready to hug poet Maya Angelou on Capitol Hill, after she recited a poem, "On the Pulse of the Morning" for his inauguration.   (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
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Maya Angelou's 1993 inaugural poem, "On the Pulse of the Morning."   (Willian J Clinton Presidential Library)

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