This Day (Lagos)

2 June 2014

Nigeria: Wole Soyinka Mourns Maya Angelou

Celebrated US poet, author and civil rights leader Dr Maya Angelou has dedicated a touching tribute to former president Nelson Mandela. ( Resource: U.S. Poet, Author Maya Angelou's Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka yesterday expressed regrets over the death of African American literary icon, Maya Angelou.

Soyinka, who in a statement, described one of Angelou's poems, "AFRICA" as more than a mere literary metaphor and reference point, said: "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."

Soyinka said if indeed she was a philosopher queen, the late American writer was the down-to-earth kind who felt her subjects keenly, "a philosopher queen without the aloofness".

He revealed that it took just one lunch meeting with her, "and Queen Angelou tightened her sash like a market mamma, mobilised 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".

Soyinka said long before that meeting, which was a personal memory he cherished, he had learnt a lot at an American university where he had gone to lecture about her mutual admiration for his works and how she had nominated him for a literary prize. Angelou, he said, was later to confirm the details to him after they 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 I'm 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."

Angelou, an African American poet, writer and civil rights activist, passed on last Wednesday at the age of 86.

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