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Maya Angelou - a life in pictures

Maya Angelou: a titan who lived as though there were no tomorrow


America has not just lost a talented Renaissance woman and a gifted raconteur it has lost a connection to its recent past

Maya Angelou: a life in pictures

Memories: Maya Angelou's majesty, according to you

The first time I interviewed Maya Angelou, in 2002, I got hammered. What was supposed to have been a 45-minute interview in a hotel room near Los Angeles had turned into a 16-hour day, much of it spent in her stretch limo, during which we'd been to lunch, and she had performed. On the way back from Pasadena she asked her assistant, Lydia Stuckey, to get out the whisky.

Do you want ice and stuff? Stuckey asked.

I'm the same person I was back then

A little less hair, a little less chin,

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Maya Angelou quotes: 15 of the best


With the death of Maya Angelou, we lose the immense wisdom of the celebrated African American author, poet and civil activist. These quotes say a lot about who she was and what she stood for. Which other inspiring sayings would you like to share?

Six key works

A life in pictures

Podcast: Maya Angelou on the Obamas and growing old

Memories: Maya Angelou's majesty, according to you

Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.

If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

I do not trust people who don't love themselves and yet tell me, 'I love you.' There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

Try to be a rainbow in someones cloud.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass.

The love of the family, the love of the person can heal. It heals the scars left by a larger society. A massive, powerful society.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.

Nothing will work unless you do.

It's one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.

I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

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Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary review JRR Tolkien's long-lost translation

Tolkien's version of the Old English epic, along with selections from his Oxford lectures and invented texts showcase a rare mix of linguistic scholarship and literary imagination

"FRODO LIVES!" I read these words in 1966, written high up on the wall in the New York subway. JRR Tolkien had become a cult figure for the counter-culture, long before Hollywood adaptations turned his lively tales into heaps of golden treasure, but it wasn't until much later that it became clear to me that Frodo was a relative of Bilbo Baggins, hero of The Hobbit, a children's book published in 1937, and that in the mid-1950s Frodo's adventures had been published, in three volumes, as The Lord of the Rings.

However, while I didn't know Frodo in 1966, I did know the name of JRR Tolkien. He had been Oxford's professor of Anglo-Saxon since 1926, and then Merton professor of English, retiring in 1959, just before I arrived. In three years in Oxford, I never heard of him as the creator of Bilbo and Frodo, only as the interpreter of, and authority on, the great Old English epic poem Beowulf. His British Academy lecture of 1936, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics", was the first to treat the poem as a poem, not as an ancient monument of interest to antiquarians. We students also read his preface to Clark Hall's literal prose crib of Beowulf.

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Maya Angelou's majesty, according to you: 'how can you love someone if you don't love yourself?'


Chance encounters, constant inspiration, songs on a train readers share their moments and memories with a legend

Gary Younge: My time with Maya - 'fine as wine in summertime'

Tayari Jones: 'Her love of the good life was an inspiration'

There are the late greats in their own words, always, of course. But sometimes the influence of a leader like Maya Angelou is best understood not so much in broad, sweeping statements or even obituaries as in the memories of the people she touched.

Following the announcement of Angelou's death on Wednesday, we asked you to tell us how you'll remember the literary giant, and we received over 200 responses in just 24 hours. We're publishing a selection of your stories about meeting her, seeing her speak, and how her words have helped you through hardships.

Nearly nine years ago, during one of the most difficult bouts of domestic abuse, my best friend photocopied Still I Rise for me to give me courage. I stuck it on my refrigerator door and read it every day until I was brave enough one late October night to turn and tell him that it was over, and that he would hurt us no more. When I moved into my new house as a single woman and a lone parent to three children, finally flying solo, I dug that photocopied poem out of its packing box, stuck it on my fridge, and it remained there until I needed it no longer. The sass and strength of a woman I would never meet has saved me many times over. That poem was my prayer. Rest in peace, Maya Angelou. Kelly, Norwich, UK

I had the pleasure and privilege to hear her speak in the packed auditorium of a community college in Bangor, Maine. At the ripe age of 81, sassier than ever in her glittering jacket, she took a moment to praise the middle-aged women who attended the community college. She tipped her hat to their courage and strength, as many of them were simultaneously raising children. My mother also returned to school while raising my sister and me. It was truly a gift Angelou's ability to recognize women and all people for their perseverance and triumphs (when society may not), to remind us of the importance of our own voice, and to stand up to injustice. Tasheana Dukuly, Lowell, Massachusetts

I grew up in a southern Louisiana town right outside of New Orleans; the exact same town that overwhelmingly voted for David Duke, the retired KKK grand wizard, to be governor the year of my birth. My mother, in an act of defiance aimed at the unabashedly prejudiced K-12 school I attended, had me recite I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Still I Rise annually at our school's talent competition.

Every year I was met with harsh eyes and a quiet drum of forced applause. But year after year my mother put me in my Sunday Best, braided my un-permed hair, and told me to go make Maya proud. Maya and my mother taught me how to be proud of my blackness, my female-ness, and therefore my inherent ability to rise after being struck down. I have carried her works with me throughout life, and I owe her more than I can explain here. All I can say is my friend, my sister, I hope you go to a most glorious rest.You gave me peace and hope in a town where there was neither. Ariel Gaines, Washington DC

I never met Maya, but as a young African deep in Africa, I relate. We are still fighting for young women to be heard and respected. We fight and pray to stop abuse, and amidst all this we strive on because those who have walked before us have conquered and given us hope. We are inspired to be like Maya. I rejoice in her life well lived! Aluta continua for all women all over the world we fight to be loved and to be protected, and thank Maya for her tremendous role in the fight. Ntombizodwa Thendele, Kempton Park, Gauteng, South Africa

I served her dinner once at a hotel in Wales. I looked after her party all evening and in the small hours, she acknowledged me with grace and gratitude. She asked me my name and sang Danny Boy to me. I couldn't look at her for the tears in my eyes. She didn't know that I was named after that song. Daniel Brake, Sydney

Just another long and boring Sunday afternoon train journey from Liverpool to London, in 1987. My friend Al Clinton and I decided we would walk the entire length of the train rehearsing a vocal harmony he had been trying to teach me for weeks. A hush descended when we reached the largely unoccupied first class carriage compartments, but we continued, only to be interrupted by the drawl of a voice: "What's that you're singing?" A beautiful beaming smile settled on us. White, white teeth, sparkling eyes and a smile that lit up that dull afternoon. We began to chat, about songs, about Liverpool, about where we were heading and why. The statuesque American black lady sipped her whiskey and asked if we would join her. Four hours of song, laughter, stories, drinks and bonhomie followed. Not once did she tell us who she was. We went on our way, excited about our new friend. The lady was Maya Angelou. Jacinta Stringer, UK

Back in school, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr Angelou for my radio show. She certainly didn't need to speak with me, but she said that she admired how accessible her friend Dr King remained throughout his (short) life, and tried to do the same for her admirers. We spoke for just a few minutes - her speaking eloquently and with conviction, and me just trying to hold my shit together.

After the interview, she invited me to see her speak at the Warner Theater in downtown DC. She shared stories about her life, and sung songs like We Shall Overcome in the theater that was once subject to segregation. When I met her backstage, she sat in a wheelchair and needed oxygen to breathe, but remained alert and magnanimous in the face of it all.

When I stood next to her to take a picture, I began to bend over so I could be at her level. She told me to stop, and that I should "Bow only before God." For me, it was less a religious statement than a testament to her only being on earth to teach, share and serve. Humility despite worldwide fame.

She signed a book I could give to my mother on her birthday, and off I went. It was only a brief moment, but over the next few days you'll read and see things about how generous and special she was. I'm here to say that every bit of that is true. Jesse Regis, New York City

I was fortunate enough to meet her in person about 10 years ago I sat at her feet and listened to her stories. She noticed a tattoo on my shoulder of Animal from the Muppets and shrieked delightfully as she said, "How nice! Art you can take with you!" It was one of the best times of my life. Laura Kat, Miami

When I was an angst-filled 14-year-old, I read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and it changed my life. Suddenly, I knew that I didn't have to be ordinary.Marti Gilley, Stapleton, Alabama

My wife and I tussled over the name of our second child; just after she was born, her mother was asked what she would call her; she answered with unswerving conviction that her name was Maya, after the writer. Roy Tonkin, London

My maternal grandmother is about the same age as Dr Angelou. She was born in California, deported with her family for being Mexican as a child, and spent most of her young life in Mexico before returning to the US. I know my grandmother faced many difficulties as a child and a young woman - abuse, racism, poverty. She has never spoken to me about those, but thankfully, Maya Angelou did. Magdalena Barajas, Brooklyn, NY

I saw Maya Angelou when she played the Liverpool Philharmonic in the '90s. I almost didn't go into the hall that night. I had gone alone and was of low mood, and suffering with depression. But something pushed me into the hall, three rows from the stage. At one point, in her magnificent way, she looked directly at me, pointed and said, "How can you love someone if you don't love yourself? Would you trust a naked man if he offered you his shirt?" She changed my life that night, as she touched the hearts of many. Sophia Blow, Liverpool, UK

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Robert Burns's suspected bipolar disorder used to fight illness's stigma

Glasgow symposium uses the poet's tempestuous life in presentations about the condition that some feel may have fuelled his work

The possibility that Scotland's best-loved poet Robert Burns may have been bipolar sparked controversy when it was mooted five years ago. Now experts from the literary and medical worlds have been brought together by Glasgow University to address the issue and attempt to tackle "stigma against those with mental illness".

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Dylan Thomas centenary - books podcast special

Steven Morris listens to memories of Dylan Thomas in Swansea and at the Laugharne festival and Hilly Janes discusses his poetry and his much-mythologised life Continue reading...

Rosemary Tonks, the lost poet

Rosemary Tonks was a feted poet, trenchant reviewer and literary socialite. And then she 'disappeared'. Following her death last month, Neil Astley traces her extraordinary story

The "disappearance" of the poet Rosemary Tonks in the 1970s was one of the literary world's most tantalising mysteries. Bizarre theories abounded as to her whereabouts if she was still alive. As the poet Brian Patten put it in a BBC radio feature about her in 2009, she "evaporated into air like the Cheshire cat". One contributor imagined her living in Cuba, "smoking cigars in a doorway". Other commentators over the years have made her into a nun; consigned her to a sect; had her communing with the ghost of Charles Baudelaire; or put her in a shed at the bottom of someone's garden. For some reason, these mythmakers always required her to be living in poverty.

Having tried to visit her myself, 10 years ago, I knew all these theories to be far from the truth. But out of respect for her declared wish, maintained by her family, that she should be left in peace, I kept her address and situation secret. Tonks died last month at the age of 85 (all the existing records had her as four years younger). She had indeed been living as a near-recluse but out of choice, quite comfortable in her circumstances. Even so, she remained restless in spirit, defiantly independent and quite alone in her continuing search for God, for she was ever alert to the "brainwashing", manipulative tendencies in the religious groups she encountered.

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The Saturday Poem: Addiction to an Old Mattress

by Rosemary Tonks

No, this is not my life, thank God
worn out like this, and crippled by brain-fag;
Obsessed first by one person, and then
(Almost at once) most horribly besotted by another;
These Februaries, full of draughts and cracks,
They belong to the people in the streets, the others
Out there haberdashers, writers of menus.

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Free Thinking: PJ O'Rourke, Steven D Levitt, Stephen J Dubner; Today review

A trio of great minds hit the stage together while Clive James proved an engaging, kindly and moving presence

Free Thinking (R3) | iPlayer
Today R4 | iPlayer

Older men get a rotten press, often from me. And I'm not sorry. There is a type of 45-plus chap that gets my goat. Gets it, and then bores the poor animal to death. You know the sort: men who know what's what. Men who know who to blame. Men who like to measure their neighbour's contribution to society via a swift check to see whether their garden is properly maintained, or if they can remember all the words to Jerusalem, or if they ever speak foreign on public transport. We've heard a lot from them over the past few days.

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Seriously ill Clive James puts in a bravura performance at London literary festival 'I'd love to go on like this'

Former Observer TV critic defies cancer to wow an audience with wit and erudition

Clive James blew into London on Saturday with a quiver full of highly polished barbs, of the kind he deployed when he was the Observer's celebrated TV critic. Billed as a high noon, it was mainly a shootout with imminent mortality. Not that you'd have known it. "Ah, well," he began, with the sardonic smile of the old trouper, "another farewell appearance."

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Jeremy Paxman on the Forward prize for poetry

Poets have to start engaging more with the general public, says the outgoing Newsnight presenter Continue reading...

Jeremy Paxman says poets must start engaging with ordinary people

Outgoing Newsnight presenter, judging Forward prize for poetry, says poetry has 'rather connived at its own irrelevance'

Shelley had it that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world", and that "poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds".

For Jeremy Paxman, though, it is an art form that has "connived at its own irrelevance", as he believes that poets today have stopped talking to the public and are only addressing each other.

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Poems of the week: Selima Hill

Four short and sharp looks at the social pressures weighing on young women are both witty and unsettling

Selima Hill's new collection The Sparkling Jewel of Naturism has an intriguing, faintly sexual title, disarmed, or complicated, by the jacket picture a handsome, striped Devon Rex cat with a pure, reproachful-seeming gaze. Unexpected visual juxtapositions occur throughout Hill's work, leading some commentators to associate it with surrealism. But the dislocations have a humane purpose: Hill may be anarchic but she is an anarchic reformer. Her small, glass-sharp poems mirror the reductive or disfiguring roles societies force individuals and animals to play.

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Is Jeremy Paxman right about new poetry's inaccessibility?


'Poets now seem to be talking to other poets... [not] people as a whole,' said the outgoing Newsnight presenter and Forward prize judge. Really? Help us compile examples of poems in film, TV, radio or any other pop-culture media and share your personal experiences of poetry in daily life

Judging the Forward prize for poetry must have been a perplexing experience for Jeremy Paxman: he has suggested the need for an "inquisition" in which "poets [would be] called to account for their poetry", and explain to their audience why they chose their subject and form. Paxman found "a whole pile of really good poems", but he wished that contemporary poetry "would raise its game a little bit, raise its sights", and "aim to engage with ordinary people much more".

Classic poetry has a definite place in popular culture, living on in readings, weddings and funerals. But as Jeremy Noel-Tod, editor of the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry, pointed out: "Frank O'Hara was once patronised as a niche poet of the New York art scene. Fifty years later, he's being recited by Don Draper on Mad Men and is one of the most influential voices around." The outsider can move into the mainstream: here's Don reading from Meditations in an Emergency, on season 2 of the popular American TV series.

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd;

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Sam Greenlee obituary

US writer and poet best known for his controversial novel and film The Spook Who Sat By the Door

The legacy of the writer Sam Greenlee, who has died aged 83, is in the cultural and philosophical impact of his debut novel The Spook Who Sat By the Door (1969), which spawned a film of the same title, often tagged "a blueprint for revolution". It tells the story of Dan Freeman, an African-American man hired by the CIA, who uses the expertise he gains to train Chicago gang members into an army of freedom fighters. "Spooks" in street slang refers both to black people and to spies; Sam was an expert navigator in a world of double entendres and masks. He states simply in his poem Felony: "A free / black mind / is a concealed / weapon!"

It was because of The Spook Who Sat By the Door that I met Sam in 1968, in the early days of the publishing house I co-founded, Allison & Busby. While living on the Greek island of Mykonos, he had met Alexis Lykiard, an undergraduate poet friend of my musician husband, and shown him the manuscript of the book, much rejected by mainstream publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. Alexis (himself a future A&B author) directed Sam to us in London.

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Jeremy Paxman doesn't see that poetry is felt, not fathomed | George Szirtes

The Newsnight presenter berates poets for their obscurity. But life is not just about rational statements

Jeremy Paxman, as chair of this year's Forward prize, has been doing his provocative best to institute what he calls an "inquisition" whereby poets would be required to explain themselves and, presumably, answer for their failure to be simpler. Poetry, he said, should "aim to engage with ordinary people much more". Let us imagine the inquisition then.

"Are you, or have you ever been, an incomprehensible poet?" asks the committee. The poet looks shiftily around, as Shostakovich did when arraigned by Stalin, for his artist's creative response to just criticism, but Paxo will have none of it. The People will have none of it. You have made your own gulag, Paxo thunders, now lie in it.

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Maya Angelou's memorial service to be live-streamed

The general public will be able to watch a webcast of the otherwise private occasion on Saturday 7 June in North Carolina
Maya Angelou: A life in pictures

The private memorial service for Maya Angelou, the writer and civil rights activist who died last week at the age of 86, will take place this weekend, and will be live-streamed for the general public by Wake Forest University, where Angelou had taught for more than 30 years.

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Creator of @everyword explains the life and death of a Twitter experiment


In 2007, Adam Parrish created an enormously popular account to tweet the English language a word at a time. He explains why he did it and what he learned

After seven years and 109,000 tweets, @everyword, one of the internet's most beloved bots, is retiring. In 2007, computer programmer and poet Adam Parrish set out to tweet every word in the English language in alphabetical order, amassing 95,000 followers along the way. On Friday 6June, the project will finally be complete. To mark the end of an era (and the alphabet), Parrish tells the Guardian what the project has taught him about people and the internet, and why it doesn't matter that "sex", "weed" and "vagina" are its most popular words.

Why did you start @everyword?


Oh come on @everyword, "sext" isn't a real word.



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A review of Philip Larkin's new poetry: from the archive, 6 June 1974


High Windows contains some of the poet's most famous works

High Windows, by Philip Larkin (Faber, £1.40).

Disinvolvement, decrepitude and death - these are the main themes of Philip Larkin's new volume of poems. The chill aspect of the book throws, moreover, a wintry light on "The Whitsun Weddings," his last book, published ten years ago: the poems there on subjects like faith-healing and ambulances glint out far more sharply than they did. Two impressive poems in the new book speak plainly of a feeling of exclusion from sexual happiness: the witty

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me);

Higher than the handsomest hotel,

An air of baffled absence,
trying to be there
Yet being here.

Everything crowds under the horizon.

Cut grass lies frail:
Brief is the breath
Mown stalks exhale.
Long, long the death
It dies in the white hours
Of young-leafed June...

Gold as on a coin, or walking
Somehow from the sun towards them,
One showing the eggs unbroken.

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