News Column

Angelou's impact felt in southeastern Minnesota

June 2, 2014

By Derek Sullivan, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.



June 02--Maya Angelou, who died this week, had a profound impact on the lives of many in southeastern Minnesota, including local performance artist Nicholas Egersdorf.

Egersdorf first learned of Angelou in elementary school, when he saw a poster on the famous writer on the classroom wall.

"My poetic reference for her is how she would put a poem within a poem. I still remember the line, 'A caged bird sings because beauty lives within it,'" he said.

Angelou, an American author and poet, died Wednesday at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., at age 86. She published seven autobiographies, including "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," which earned her international recognition. She was also an essayist, playwright, college professor, civil rights leader and role model.

Among those she influenced was Asha Alston, a poetry lover who first learned of Angelou as an eighth-grader at Willow Creek Middle School.

"I really started to love poetry after reading her books," Alston said. "I just thought her poems were a lot better than the other poems we learned in school."

Rebecca Roe, a Post-Bulletin senior media consultant, met Angelou in the early 1990s, at an event at Winona State University.

"She was one of the first women I had ever met that solely her presence in a room was inspiring," Roe said. "There was something so genuine in her."

A few years later, at the College of Saint Benedict, Roe participated in a small group workshop with Angelou.

"There, she read her work to us and discussed her poems," Roe said. "She was incredibly passionate and humble. Since then, many of her works have had a permanent spot in my book collection. She was evidence that no matter what life has in store for you, you can rise from situations with grace. Maya's life makes me wonder who in my kids' generation might ever have such a profound impact on so many like Maya."

Abuk Deng said she learned a little about Angelou while in elementary school. After hearing about Angelou's death, Deng said she wants to read more of Angelou's writings.

"I do want to look into her life and the things she has done," Deng said. "My mother would always tell me that (Angelou) was a really good poet, and that she really wrote some wonderful things."

Deng writes poetry and often shares her work with art lovers at the Creative Salon in Rochester. Writers like Angelou were a big reason that Deng fell in love with poetry as a young student.

"With poetry, I can tell my story whatever way I want to tell it, how I want to tell it, when I want to tell it. I express myself through my poetry. When I'm sad, I write. When I'm happy, I write. When I'm bored, I write, so to me, poetry is wonderful," she said.

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Source: Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)


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