According to writer Guy Johnson, his mother, the late poet and author Dr. Maya Angelou, never gave him advice about his craft. Though Angelou didn’t guide his writing, Johnson said he learned many other lessons from his mother.
Johnson shared some of the most important things Angelou taught him and discussed some of his final memories of her in a conversation with Business Insider hours after her death Wednesday, at age 86.
Johnson said the main thing he learned from Angelou is that “life’s complexity cannot be taught in a classroom.”
Angelou’s final conversation with her son took place over the phone Tuesday. Johnson said she was “laughing” and in “good spirits.” Though he declined to discuss the specifics of their last discussion, Johnson said he believed his mother knew she was near the end of her life.
“I think the only reason she stuck around this long is that she felt she was on a divine mission,” Johnson said.
Johnson described his mother’s “mission” as focused on spreading “respect” and combatting racism.
“It had to do with teaching people that we have to give respect to each other and respect this planet … that we are more alike than we are unalike … and that racism is a foolish and divisive construct,” Johnson said. “She was a warrior for calm, understanding, peace, and love.”
In addition to her success as an author, Angelou was a civil rights activist who worked with both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
She was a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. Johnson is her only child.
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