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Drake faculty remember Maya Angelou

May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou 1

As news broke today that Maya Angelou has died at age 86, members of the Drake University community remembered the influential author and poet who reminded us that we can all be “rainbows in the clouds.”

Angelou captivated an audience of more than 8,000 during Drake’s 24th Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture in October 2009. Her legacy carries on through our memories, through her artistic work, and through her prominent role as an influential supporter of civil rights, faculty said.

Some thoughts from Renee Ann Cramer, associate professor and chair of the law, politics, and society department:

  • "Maya Angelou provides an example for generations of students and teachers - a poet, an actress, a dancer - a woman committed to the arts, and also committed to their potential for liberation, their uses in emancipation. As an African American woman, she stood gracefully at the intersections of so many forms of oppression and bias - and helped to illuminate the dark corners where racism sits; she also, at those intersections, showed how brightly we could shine lights on those places, from the unique standpoint of our identity."
  • "I have seen photos of Maya Angelou standing with James Baldwin, with Malcolm X, with Martin Luther King, Jr.—with leaders of the fights for equality and justice in the United States—and it strikes me that she is a woman in these photos, a woman claiming space in a movement that was still quite masculine, and a woman with power in those spaces."
  • “Her memoir on living in the Jim Crow South is uncompromising in its understanding of the harms caused by racism - institutional and personal - and Doctor Angelou was uncompromising in her call for change and justice."
  • "Doctor Angelou was also a mom—someone who understood the importance of our daily activities of care, of nurture, as themselves political."
  • "And, finally, Doctor Angelou was sexy. She was unashamed of her height, her power, her unconventional beauty. Not objectified by the media, she could claim her physicality proudly, unreservedly, beautifully."

Prof. Cramer teaches courses on critical race and feminist theory, reproductive law and politics, and the equal protection amendment, all of which touch on Dr. Angelou's life and work. She specializes in the study of critical race and feminist theory. Her current work explores the intersectional identities of women of color as they are portrayed by the media. 

A remembrance from Melisa Klimaszewski, associate professor of English and faculty advisor to the Coalition of Black Students:

  • "Angelou's life was full and long, and her passing, although sad, reminds us of the pride and dignity with which she carried herself. That modeling and that legacy will continue to affect our communities long after her passing. The wonderful thing about a poet and a writer is that we can call them up when we need them just by opening their books. None of us knew Angelou closely at a personal level, but we felt connected to her as we read her poetry and prose. That connection is infinite, and her passing reminds us to be grateful for it."
  • "When Angelou visited Drake for the Bucksbaum Lecture in 2009, our students were delighted to meet her and to hear her speak. In a small session with the Coalition of Black Students and some English and Writing majors, Angelou was generous and thoughtful. She was curious about the students' interests, and she encouraged them to keep reading and writing. I know that the encounter, however brief, profoundly affected many of the students and that they will be remembering her especially intensely today."
  • "For our African American students who know Angelou as a public figure, I think there is a sense of loss that a wise leader is gone. Angelou's presence in our cultural landscape is part of a rich history of inspiring, civic-minded African American leaders whose strength and resilience encourages young people to persist in the face of daunting challenges. It's always difficult when one of those voices goes silent."

Prof. Klimaszewski teaches British literature, South African literature, and critical race studies. She has studied Angelou's work. Additionally, she is co-founder of Drake's Crew Scholars Program, which provides financial, academic, and mentorship support primarily to domestic students of color.