Maya Angelou's Passing draws Respect and Remembrance from CNY Writers, Poets

May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou was an inspiration for many local writers, poets

The passing of Poet and activist Maya Angelou was felt with sorrow and respect by writers here in Central New York. 

You don’t have to look too far to find writers and poets around here that were more than just touched by Maya Angelou’s life and work.  Georgia Popoff remembers reading the autobiographical “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and the S-U professor and community poet with the Downtown Writer’s Center drew inspiration from it that she could be a writer.   

“Most of her life she was pushing and struggling against all odds.  One of the reasons she inspired me too, she never published until she was in her 40s and at the time that I was coming back into my writing and seizing that opportunity to be rue to myself and saying, ’o-k I can do this’. She was the inaugural poet for Bill Clinton and that was the first time since Robert Frost was the inaugural poet for John F Kennedy that anyone had chosen to do that.” 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was among Angelou's best known works

She recalls that opportunity allowed Angelou to show poetry could be used in public settings with power and strength.  Popoff believes it also opened the eyes of others.

“I think a lot of young people engage with literature and certainly poetry because of her example.  And I think a lot of other people too because her language is still so attainable and her message was so important that it’s easy to connect with her work and feel that you had something in yourself in it.”


Cornell Professor of Literature Kenneth McClain also believes Angelou’s work went far beyond the page.  He says she captured the resilience emblematic of African American life – the ability for African Americans to face the horrors of the Middle Passage, slavery, and Jim Crow with dignity and grace.  Both local writers say Angelou was an important voice in civil rights and social activism.  Angelou spoke in Syracuse in 2004 and at Cornell’s graduation in 2008.