Acclaimed author, poet impacted lives during visits to universities
Before Maya Angelou took the stage at Texas Woman’s University in the spring of 2012, she was greeted by the chancellor, some regents and student Joleesia Berry.
Berry was unsure what to say, so she told Angelou about how when she was younger, she had memorized and recited Angelou’s poem, “Phenomenal Woman.”
“She looked at me, held my hand and said she wrote that for me,” Berry said. “It meant a lot to me because I was going through a lot at that time personally. ... The poem was for all the women of color and women in general to hold themselves up to a higher standard.”
Angelou walked across the stage in Margo Jones Hall, even though she had rescheduled the original time for the event because she was sick.
“To me, I was so impressed because people don’t realize she was really sick before she even got on stage, and to know she still walked across the stage as a strong woman — it meant so much to me to see her walk across the stage knowing she had gone through a lot,” Berry said.
Angelou, who died Wednesday at age 86, made three trips to Denton in the past 10 years to visit TWU in 2012, and the University of North Texas twice. During her first trip to UNT in 2004, she received an honorary degree from the school.
Angelou was invited back to UNT in 2006 because she was so well-received, said Cheylon Brown, director of the Multicultural Center at UNT.
During Angelou’s visits, Brown worked closely with her to showcase some student artists and help her and her team while on campus.
Angelou was wowed by the performances, and in 2006 made a point to hold hands with a student dancer as she was pushed around campus in a wheelchair.
“She really took time to engage the students and encourage them,” Brown said. “It was just amazing.”
Angelou also enjoyed her time on stage at UNT, Brown said. The speech was captivating and she was charismatic.
“It was evident that she had a great time, the audience was wowed and I was sitting there as a young professional, and I had the opportunity to interact with her and glean from some of that wisdom,” Brown said.
The students at TWU were equally appreciative of her time at the school, Berry said. Ann Stuart, chancellor and president, said she wanted to make sure the students got the most out of Angelou’s visit and be able to spend one-on-one time with her.
“I wanted to make sure whatever time she had, the students had an experience they could remember,” Stuart said. “That was a packed house, and it was wonderful. ... I thought it was a significant day in the life of our university.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.