Wake Forest Colleague Remembers Maya Angelou

May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou was appointed Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest in 1982.
Credit Wake Forest University

Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home in Winston-Salem on Wednesday. She has a long list of accomplishments: she published seven autobiographies, she won a presidential medal of freedom and three Grammy's and she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony and a National Book Award.

She was also a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University starting in 1982.

Angelou grew up in Arkansas before moving to San Francisco for high school, where she became the city's first African American female streetcar conductor. She never went to college, but she's been awarded more than 30 honorary degrees – including one from Wake Forest.

Wake Forest English professor Mary DeShazer was friends with Angelou for thirty years. She says one of the most common questions she heard from students was: How do I get into Maya Angelou's class?

"She did require personal interviews because she wanted to get students, often seniors who would not have another chance to study with her," DeShazer says. "And she wanted people whose commitment to very intensive rehearsals and to the power of poetry would be evident to her."

DeShazer says Angelou's impact went far beyond the classroom. She says Angelou often helped students experiencing personal crises. Students felt comfortable turning to her because Angelou was open about many of her own crises in her autobiographies and other works.