Maya Angelou, 1928–2014
Photograph by TOP reader Ken Bennett, used with permission
"If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be."
—Poet and author Maya Angelou, who died this morning at the age of 86 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Only one of Ms. Angelou's many accomplishments is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the breakout book that made her lastingly famous. It is the first volume of a six-volume autobiography of the first forty years of her life and one of the great coming-of-age books written in English. Caged Bird recounts her life up to age 17. It is not for the faint of heart. The New York Times said this morning, "hallmarks of Ms. Angelou’s prose style included a directness of voice that recalls African-American oral tradition and gives her work the quality of testimony. She was also intimately concerned with sensation, describing the world around her...with palpable feeling for its sights, sounds and smells."
I hope it is not disrespectful to torque this short post around to more direct relevance to us by noting that the above quote is very apropos for photographers. I always use the word "generic" to express what she means by "normal." But to be as non-normal as possible, in the way that is closest and dearest and most sensible to each of us specifically, is really the best way to aim at being "amazing" as a photographer.
Here are 18 more great Maya Angelou quotes for inspiration and reflection.
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Ken Bennett: "Maya Angelou was a professor at the university where I work, and so I was able to watch and photograph her many times over the years. She had an amazing presence and power. It's a very sad day here."