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Maya Angelou passed away on May 28th to the sadness of literary lovers the world over.

She had a 50-year career in the arts that included dancing, singing, writing, and poetry.

Here is a moving Eulogy from our dearest Paper Wole himself, who, it appears, knew Maya Angelou personally.

RIP Maya!

Angelou, Maya

Maya’s “Africa”  was more than a mere literary metaphor and reference point – it went beyond race identification. To obtain a glimmering of what the continent meant to her, one would have to think in terms of a mystic nostalgia.

That could be because she was so markedly black—regal both in bearing and pronouncements, she made one feel that, in some distant time past, she had been a queen—a philosopher queen—over some part of the black continent.

If  indeed she was, Maya was the down-to-earth kind who felt her subjects keenly, a philosopher queen without the aloofness.

It took just one lunch meeting with her, and Queen Angelou tightened her sash like a market mamma, mobilized emergency forces, and personally led the charge to beat down the doors of a lethargic—and/or ambiguous—US administration during the Sanni Abacha murderous dictatorship. She kept her finger on the nation’s pulse throughout a people’s travails.

Long before that however—what a personal memory to cherish!—I learnt the following at an American university where I had gone to lecture, and Maya confirmed the details to me after we had finally met.

Publishers of a prestigious literary journal, the college was also sponsor of a bi-annual international literary prize. She had nominated me for that prize but, finally, it was a German writer who carried it off—I think it was  Gunther Grass, but am no longer sure.

Well, at the formal event of the announcement, Maya Angelou was so disappointed, she burst into tears. Our sole contact till then was through our writing.

During reception afterwards, when she was being teased/consoled or whatever, she said something like: No, it’s all right, I know he’ll win a bigger one. A year later, I was accorded the Nobel Prize.

— Wole Soyinka

Originally published in Sahara Reporters

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

2 Responses to “Wole Soyinka — Maya Angelou Was a Philosopher Queen | A Eulogy” Subscribe

  1. Samuel Okopi 2014/06/06 at 10:52 #

    This is moving. A fitting eulogy. She had a fine mind, Ma Maya.

  2. Nixon Garagn 2014/06/11 at 08:16 #

    Some people are blessed with words, Ma Maya knew how to put it down on paper too. RIP.

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