Maya Angelou, an author more revered than read, passed away at 86 on Wednesday. She is survived by her seven autobiographies.
In addition to Angelou playing Boswell to Angelou’s Johnson, Angelou acted, wrote poetry, danced, and sang. Was she an actress, poet, dancer, or singer? People liked her politics, and, out of ideological solidarity, reflexively praised her talents in multitudinous endeavors. At her most irresponsible, she embraced Fidel Castro, Malcolm X, and Bill Clinton—a mistake for a lady of any age.
“I’m not modest,” Angelou explained last year to the AP. “I have no modesty.” She got to know herself, apparently, after getting to know poetry and politics and songs and stage.
She usurped her parents’ privilege by renaming herself after finding “Marguerite Johnson” not quite arresting enough. In this spirit, she insisted that others call her “Dr. Angelou” though she never obtained a college degree.
The doctor without a doctorate became a teacher without students at Wake Forest. “She collects an annual salary well into the six figures, yet presently teaches no classes and has no campus office,” John Meroney, then a senior at the North Carolina school, wrote in The American Spectator twenty-one years ago. “The office listed for her in the Wake Forest telephone directory is a storage closet in a building far from the main part of campus.”