During her speech at Maya Angelou’s memorial service at Wake Forest University on Saturday, first lady Michelle Obama shared a personal connection with the poet and author that existed well before the two ever met. Obama recalled as a young woman being inspired by Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman,” a poem that “spoke to the essence of black women, but she also graced us with an anthem for all women –- a call for all of us to embrace our God-given beauty.” Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size But when I start to tell them, They think I’m telling lies. I say, It’s in the reach of my arms, The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips.
Maya Angelou loomed so large in my life I once crashed a funeral — Alex Haley’s — where I planned to “kidnap” her. The plan to offer her a ride from the church in Memphis, Tenn., to the burial site in Henning made perfect sense: Who wouldn’t want spend about an hour riding up Highway 51 to Haley’s birthplace with Southern-style barbecue smells wafting through air-conditioner vents, telling Maya how she was one of my first friends, confidants and therapists — if only from the pages of her books? I just had to meet her, and if it meant driving three hours from where I was working as a young reporter in Jackson, Miss., to the church that was my refuge as a teen, and crashing the funeral of a famous distant cousin I had never met, so be it. She was basically coming to my home, and I wanted to roll out the red carpet. Alas, Maya couldn’t make it.