May 28th 2014, the world lost a gem, a very rare one. But because I personally found my joy of writing in that rare gem, I have come to accept that, she’s not gone forever! In my heart and many other people who have come to value her worth of spoken and written words, her legacy lives on, her once crowded and dark cupboard with crooked legs, is now that priceless remedy, that soothing balm that heals and inspires, those expressive words: very deep, precise, real, cutting, profound, rooted and yearning. Even the most timid person can relate to her past, embrace her juicy livelihood and rise with her into the future.
Sometime ago while I was still in the University of Port Harcourt, studying English! For a presentation we were required to write an autobiography on a famous woman of our choice. Well, a non-existing one, I’d quickly picked Evita Peron and Lady Diana. Even though I wanted badly to write on Maya, but very well she was still very much existing, and her wellbeing was priority. And I remember, when I informed the lecturer then (Professor Helen Chukwuma, fondly known as ‘Madame” – currently a full Professor of English in Jackson State University, Mississippi, USA) and she’d smiled and urged me to go ahead with Evita instead. Her words were: “We all still need Maya alive” That was 18 years ago.
I read ‘I know why the caged bird sings” and was blown away by her deep expressive utterances of a broken past, that’s been written in such a way that allows the reader to travel back in time into their own childhood and feel the joy and pain mixed with reconciliation. A heavy pang of illusion overwhelmed me, and I just had to go back to the beginning to read it again – this time, capturing every alluring moment – till I got to the last paragraph: “She turned out the light and I patted my son’s body lightly and went back to sleep”. Compelling, captivating and easily approachable!
My favorite of her poems, Still I Rise! I know has really helped a lot of people going through some kind of difficult transition with life. We’d used this poem as a theme during shelter visitation with abused teenagers, for women going through counseling for some kind of battery or addiction and also during a group discussion to help boost self-esteem and self- confidence.
She will be greatly missed and has done her calling above and beyond with her strength and words that we shall never forget, there’s no pomp and pageantry about her, even without meeting her in person, you automatically connect with her personality, her words build and create freedom in breaking down barriers with whatever storms there may be. She has given herself as an example of a crushed seed, but not a destroyed sprout. She’s grown out of it by using her God given talent of “talking freely” to help inspire others. Her past is her testimony, her life’s work, a legacy for us all, and a force of humanity.
Today, I am encouraging someone to look beyond whatever bitter, twisted lies or dirt that has been written down about them in history, But still, like dust, “To Rise”
Just like moons and like suns, with the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still to get up and… Rise.
May God Help us all