Obama Says Maya Angelou Inspired His Mother to Name His Sister Maya

The president praised the poet, who died Wednesday at the age of 86.

Poet Maya Angelou reads a poem during a ceremony to present Archbishop Desmond Tutu of Cape Town, South Africa the William J. Fulbright Prize for International Understanding November 21, 2008 at the US State Department in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / TIM SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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Elahe Izad
May 28, 2014, 9:03 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama has paid trib­ute to Maya An­gelou, one of the most pro­lif­ic Amer­ic­an po­ets of mod­ern Amer­ica, by call­ing her “a bril­liant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phe­nom­en­al wo­man” — a nod to one of her poems

“She in­spired my own moth­er to name my sis­ter Maya,” Obama said in a state­ment.

In 2011, Obama awar­ded An­gelou the Medal of Free­dom, the highest ci­vil­ian award. Al­though she was a loy­al Hil­lary Clin­ton sup­port­er dur­ing the 2008 cam­paign, in the days be­fore Obama’s 2009 in­aug­ur­a­tion, An­gelou said see­ing Obama be­com­ing pres­id­ent made her feel proud. “It was as if someone in the out­er sphere said, ‘What can we do to really show how im­port­ant Mar­tin Luth­er King was?’ ” she said at the time.

Here’s the full state­ment from the pres­id­ent:

When her friend Nel­son Man­dela passed away last year, Maya An­gelou wrote that “No sun out­lasts its sun­set, but will rise again, and bring the dawn.”

Today, Michelle and I join mil­lions around the world in re­mem­ber­ing one of the bright­est lights of our time — a bril­liant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phe­nom­en­al wo­man. Over the course of her re­mark­able life, Maya was many things — an au­thor, poet, civil-rights act­iv­ist, play­wright, act­ress, dir­ect­or, com­poser, sing­er, and dan­cer. But above all, she was a storyteller — and her greatest stor­ies were true. A child­hood of suf­fer­ing and ab­use ac­tu­ally drove her to stop speak­ing — but the voice she found helped gen­er­a­tions of Amer­ic­ans find their rain­bow amidst the clouds, and in­spired the rest of us to be our best selves. In fact, she in­spired my own moth­er to name my sis­ter Maya.

Like so many oth­ers, Michelle and I will al­ways cher­ish the time we were priv­ileged to spend with Maya. With a kind word and a strong em­brace, she had the abil­ity to re­mind us that we are all God’s chil­dren; that we all have something to of­fer. And while Maya’s day may be done, we take com­fort in know­ing that her song will con­tin­ue, “flung up to heav­en” — and we cel­eb­rate the dawn that Maya An­gelou helped bring.


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