Local reaction to the passing of Maya Angelou - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Local reaction to the passing of Maya Angelou

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Madison (WKOW)-- World renowned author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou died Wednesday morning at the age of 86.  Angelou had been battling health problems recently and died at her North Carolina home. Angelou left a lasting impression on many literature lovers, feminist theorists and the African American community.

"She touched so many broad population groups. She meant a lot to so many people," Madison Urban League President and CEO Noble Wray says. "She certainly meant a lot to the Urban League. She was a big part of our 100 year celebration. She wrote a special poem to celebrate that achievement and we value her work."
Many poets including Madison Poet Laureate Sarah Busse are greatly influenced by Angelou's work. Busse says the poem "Phenomenal Woman" is the first piece of work she thought of when she heard of Angelou's passing. She says the poem beautifully captures Angelou's spirit and her message as a writer.

"She lived her life to the fullest and she wrote her truth. It was like she opened possibilities for those of us who read her work, that we could also learn how to speak our truth," Busse says.

Angelou traveled the world countless times during her 86 years of life. She visited Madison once in 1998 and again in 2001. Many professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison use her writings in their classes.

"Maya Angelou gave voice and center stage to the young, the female, the vulnerable and she got people talking about things that most people wanted to keep silent or quiet," UW Literature Professor Cherene Sherrard-Johnson says.

For many Angelou admirers, it's difficult to pick out one specific message to sum up her life. J.R. Sims from the group "100 Black Men" says one Angelou quote in particular has had a profound effect on his life.

"If you get, give. If you learn, teach. That just stayed with me, because if you follow that creed, then every minute of your life is a constant paying forward," Sims says.

A simple message from a woman that experts say used her words to not only heal herself, but countless others experiencing injustice and hardship.

"She just loved the world around her and tried to help people with her words. She will be missed by many," Busse says.

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