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May 31, 2014

Saturday Open Thread: Death and Civility [Y-not]

Cable car conductor at aged 14

Single mother at aged 17 who supported herself and her son by working as a waitress and a cook

Grandmother (interesting story about the kidnapping of one of her grandchildren here)

Performing artist who toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess in the '50s

Editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer in Cairo, Egypt

Three-time Grammy Award winner and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

All from a person who started out life under extremely difficult circumstances:

She was raped when she was 7 years old, an incident she described in her first book, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:"

Described from the childís viewpoint, it somehow manages to depict something that has rarely been conveyed so well: how the childís starvation for paternal affection can set up the neediness that makes him/her vulnerable, how wily and then how brutal the rapist can be, and how a sensitive child might react. In Angelouís case, when her uncles took revenge and murdered the rapist, she felt that her talking about the rape had caused his death, and so she decided to stop talking entirely:

ďI thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone ÖĒ

It took a long time for Angelou to find her voice againófive years of silence. Initially she was sent back to Stamps, Arkansas to live with her grandmother in a more stable environment, and that helped a bit. But it was literature and a wonderful teacher that convinced her to return to the world and its people.

Make sure to go to Neoneocon's blog to read the whole thing.

These are some of the life experiences and achievements of a woman who died this week, Maya Angelou.

I walked several miles up hill in the snow (literally) to attend one of her readings when I was in college in Vermont. The poetry reading she gave inspired me. Not just for her poems, many of which speak about inner strength and optimism in the face of adversity, but also because her delivery was sublime.

My favorite poem of hers is "Phenomenal Woman." Here's a excerpt:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
Iím not cute or built to suit a fashion modelís size
But when I start to tell them,
They think Iím telling lies.
I say,
Itís in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
Iím a woman
Phenomenal woman,
Thatís me.

(When I was a DJ, I played a lot of blues. This poem should be set to blues music. I love it.)

So to me, I have a fond remembrance of her as a poet. But as with many accomplished people, she was many things to different people.

As with any notable person these days, Ms. Angelou's death has stirred up a lot of strong feelings, even though she died at a ripe old age of what appears to be natural causes. Angelou was the country's Poet Laureate and traveled in powerful circles, including apparently being friends with the Clintons. She also was an activist.

So this week, before her body was cold, people took to Twitter to say their piece about her. Much of it was praise; some of it was criticism. (Most of the latter came from conservatives.) And, apparently, some of it was criticism about the people who were criticizing her or, as Sonny Bunch points out, not praising her enough:

Twitter was especially fun* yesterday following the death of Maya Angelou. For instance, I learned that if you didnít really, really love Angelouís work, you are probably a racist. (No, really, that was the super serial argument Joshua Foust was making at one point yesterday.) Meanwhile, a number of people were quite angry that NROís Tim Cavanaugh and Jonah Goldberg highlighted Angelouís support for gun rights and The SimpsonsĎ gentle mockery of her, respectively.

He makes some good points, but the best one is this:

As someone who simply doesnít care for poetry and therefore had little to say about Angelouís death

Or as our grandmothers taught many of us, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

Reading the snark about this accomplished woman on the day of her death, I wish more people followed that rule.

Open thread.

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posted by Open Blogger at 11:55 AM

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