Maya Angelou, a phenomenal woman by every definition, passed away and left our living realm on Wednesday. Dr. Angelou was an inspiration, an icon and an integral advocate in the fight for racial and gender equality. She was, however, first and foremost a writer.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. —Maya Angelou
Though Angelou is no longer with us, her spirit and passion endure in a new generation inspired by her courageous work—in the voices of black female poets and novelists who recognize that a path toward racial and sexual equality has been forged, but if no one nurtures that trail, we’ll continue to wander in a forest of blind ignorance. Here are a few of the inspiring women carrying on the Angelou torch.
Poet, essayist and storyteller Kyla Marshell (pictured above) is as unafraid as she is eloquent and honest. Her words don’t come off as agenda-ridden, but they are rich with insights on modern race relations. There is an unmistakable realness in her style that flows onto topics ranging from her love life to the legitimacy of Donald Glover. She’s able to make an animalistic hunger for her partner sound elegant, muse on black identity by incorporating Angela Davis into a tale of Halloween, and give New York a fresh heartbeat pulsing with surprises. And she does it all with clever wit.
...Because he’s just so awkward, so uncomfortable in his own skin. In addition to his posture problems and unwillingness to blink is the fact that he’s so caught up on his childhood. Childish Gambino could be fudged into simpler terms to mean Babyish Baby, and that’s apt. Donald’s childhood, I glean, was very similar to mine: an ethnically black child who grew up culturally white because of the surrounding school system and neighborhood. The difference between him and me, however, is that I found something else to say besides Ow. —Kyla Marshell, excerpt from “All Hollow”
Kima Jones is an up-and-coming queer poet whose voice and presence are sharp, pointed and passionate, with a focus on the bodies of black women and men. NPR picked up Jones’ work in April during National Poetry Month.
"I am a black woman who writes. I don't think it's possible to separate the two. I don't think it's possible—my politics are around creating visibility for black people," the poet told NPR in an interview.
In her alarmingly raw poem "Fresh," she shares the story of accepting her infertility and being forced to rethink what it means to have the body of a woman.
because the blood resumes
flowers i sucked from
nectar lived there
we tested our faith
in stories of birds
the blood resumes…
The darkness of fairy tales, intrigue of African folklore and loaded American race issues collide in the fantastic reality of Helen Oyeyemi’s stories. An esteemed novelist several times over, Oyeyemi’s journey as a published author began when she was just 18. The most recent and fifth published book by the Nigerian writer, Boy, Snow, Bird, has already gained traction with The New York Times (which called it “gloriously unsettling") and NPR, among other gushing media outlets. Boy, Snow, Bird is a Snow White-esque tale that takes place in a racially charged 1950s America.
Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy. I'd hide myself away inside them, setting two mirrors up to face each other so that when I stood between them I was infinitely reflected in either direction. Many, many me's. When I stood on tiptoe, we all stood on tiptoe, trying to see the first of us, and the last. The effect was dizzying, a vast pulse, not quite alive, more like the working of an automaton. I felt the reflection at my shoulder like a touch. I was on the most familiar terms with her, same as any other junior dope too lonely to be selective about the company she keeps. —First paragraph of Helen Oyeyemi's Boy, Snow, Bird
Image of Kyla Marshell: official webpage; images of Kima Jones and Helen Oyeyemi: NPR