When you heard this morning that Maya Angelou died, I imagine that you, like me, felt a small crumbling in your body, a specific jolt of sadness that is sharp and unexpected and reserved for mourning strangers you somehow feel you knew. Angelou was a prolific, commanding presence, a generous and inspiring storyteller who gave and gave and lived an extraordinary, admirable and defiant life. With her passing, there’s been a break in our collective force (because, even if you knew nothing else about her, you knew Maya Angelou was a force for good). She taught love and she taught hope, but perhaps more than anything, she taught personal power to those who’d been most subjugated and disempowered.
Today, to remember her, you can (and should) read the many heart-warming and informative obituaries being written in her honor. You can (and should) re-visit her most famous works; her memoirs, her big wide blazing books of poetry, her essays—all of them meditations on love and anger and fear and what it means to be raw and fighting and human.
But I suggest you also do something else. Purchase a copy of Maya Angelou’s 1993 children’s book Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, which is illustrated with drawings by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and was written, as Angelou said, “for all children who whistle in the dark and who refuse to admit that they’re frightened out of their wits.” Buy this book for yourself or a friend or a kid or anyone you want to remind that we should not be afraid of living, that we should never let fear get in the way of our own possibility, of the endless opportunities that this hard gorgeous world has to offer, no matter where we start or what our present circumstances may be. Buy this book and remember to live bravely. That’s the best tribute any of us can give Maya Angelou, a woman who did just that and did it in spades.
You can listen to her read Life Doesn’t Frighten Me here: