Writers, American Literature Experts Reflect on Legacy of Maya Angelou

Writers, American Literature Experts Reflect on Legacy of Maya Angelou

By Dave Cranshaw
UNH Today Editor

Randall Horton, an assistant professor of English and an award-winning poet, reflected on the enduring legacy of Maya Angelou, one of America's most celebrated poets, novelists and civil-rights activists, who died last week at age 86.

“We lost a phenomenal woman and poet,” he said. “Her presence and accomplishments helped to create a space for not only women, but writers of color as well. The poetry community will mourn, while understanding this poet will continue to influence a generation of writers.

Randall Horton

“The writing speaks for itself,” he continued. “I think Maya Angelou was endearing to such a huge following because people of all cultures could relate to the narratives and allusions in her poems. She represented the ‘everywoman,’ fought for civil rights and education, read for presidents and became iconic, one poem at a time.”

Diane Russo, an expert in 20th-Century American Literature, believes that Angelou’s “absolute determination,” which, she says, pervades her writing voice, is what makes her work resonate with readers, especially young ones.

“Of the many contributions Maya Angelou brought to our lives is the extraordinary gift of drawing young readers into the craft and power of language as no other writer of our time has,” she said.

Antoinette Gardner ’15, an English major, said her favorite works were Phenomenal Woman and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

“Her invigorating poems and words will resonate with generations to come,” she said. “I was enamored that a black woman was able to hold such an immense presence in the black community in America and the rest of the world.”

“Her work was a beacon of hope. I didn’t fully appreciated her work until I entered college and began to study African-American authors,” she said.

Russo, who teaches first-year composition courses, said she is often struck by the number of students who come to her classes with a passion for Angelou’s words that was instilled in them in high school.

“That is a testament to the gift of her writing,” she said. “Angelou’s powerful voice is a call to be the best that humanity can be even in the worst times.”

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