R.I.P. Maya Angelou, 1928-2014
Maya Angelou dances with the late poet Amiri Baraka at Langston Hughes’ 89th birthday celebration in 1991. Photo by Chester Higgins Jr. for the New York Times.
by Gautham Nagesh
HYDERABAD, India—It has been a while since I last wrote here, my apologies.
I could offer the standard excuses, but there’s really just one reason: I landed my dream job last year, and it has left me no time for anything else. The past month in particular has been an unrelenting stream of news, leaving every other part of my life neglected. This vacation and the chance to rest and recharge couldn’t have come at a better time.
I have always struggled to describe what we do here at Stiff Jab. Put simply, we write about fighting, and try to find beauty in what is clearly an ugly spectacle, designed to appeal to our basest instincts. Whether it’s Sarah documenting the trials of women trying to break into a man’s world, or me simply bearing witness to battles fought by fighters that will never reach the limelight, we try to capture how the heat of battle brings out the best in these men and women, who enter the ring almost naked and depart completely exposed, in victory or defeat.
Fighters are remarkable human beings. Fighters drag themselves from meager conditions with little more than their hands and years of sweat. It is a long, lonely road, and almost none of them find success. Even those that reach the top must spent years toiling anonymously, placing full faith in their discipline and natural gifts and hoping it’s enough to secure their future. And even for the best, their moment is almost always just that; a glorious instant in time, followed by a slow descent back to where they started.
Of course, a few select champions manage to defy all that. They somehow along the way become more than just a sack of meat and bones, but something much larger, a testament to the incredible potential of the human spirit. They inspire us, and expand our vision of what life can hold for all of us. They make us believe in ourselves, and in abilities we never knew we had.
By any measure, Maya Angelou was a fighter and a champion. Her grandness was such that it cannot be encapsulated by mere titles like poet or author. Maya Angelou was much more. She was living proof that no matter how many times a woman has been knocked down to the canvas, no matter how deeply the odds are stacked against her, she retains a puncher’s chance.
Ms. Angelou rose from a background defined by crippling racism, trauma, and displacement, yet somehow managed to spend her life showing all of us just how much life can be jammed into 86 years. She fought proudly in the ring for over five decades, refusing to capitulate no matter what. If the outpouring of grief and love today is any indication, her arms should be raised in victory for eternity.