Maya Angelou Remembered – Part 1 By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jnr., Ph.D.

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jnr., Ph.D.
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jnr., Ph.D.

It has been said that we attend another’s funeral in order to recall and mourn our own. This is an age-old Akan-Ghanaian maxim. What this means is that in this serialized tribute to the famous African-American poet, memoirist, journalist, playwright, film and television writer-producer and educator, I shall also be recalling the lives of other relevant deceased relatives and significant non-relatives as well as living friends and relatives of the subject of homage.

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When I learned of the glorious passing of Maya Angelou – “glorious passing” because she had led a long and very productive and inspiring life – I scrambled to the website of the Schomburg Center for Research in (Global) Black Culture for a copy of the program used in the memorial thanksgiving celebration of the passing of Ms. Efua Theodora Sutherland (1924-1996). Maya Angelou had been prominently featured on that program; it was also the first time that I had met the legendary writer in person. I would be privileged to meet her for the second and last time in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, about six years later.

The program record of the Efua Sutherland Memorial Thanksgiving Celebration on the website of the Schomburg Center (of the New York Public Library) does not contain my name, although I was afforded some fifteen or twenty minutes to read my sequence of two poems dedicated to the memory of the putative Mother of Modern African Drama / Theater to a thunderous applause. The poems in reference appear in my volume of poetry titled “Atumpan” (Turn of River Press), revised and published by

The name of my now-deceased father, Prof. Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Sr. (1929-2001), also does not appear on the program, although it was he who poured the liquor for the eminent libator for the occasion, Rev.-Prof. Kofi Asare-Opoku, his longtime friend and colleague from their University of Ghana days in the early 1960s and 1970s.

For me, though, the two things that stand out the most in my mind about the recent passing of Maya Angelou (aka Marguerite Ann Johnson) are the fact that the day on which she transitioned, May 28, 2014, would also have marked the 80th birthday anniversary of my mother, Dorothy Tomina Adwoa Attaa-Aninwaa Sintim (Okoampa-Ahoofe) (1934-1998). My mother preferred to use only the first of my father’s hyphenated last name, because she said that when she married the old man he did not yet have the accolade of “Ahoofe” appended to his name.

And also the fact that Ms. Angelou’s passing marked exactly 18 years and one month since the Schomburg celebration of the equally glorious passing of Efua Theodora Morgue Sutherland. But what is even more significant is the fact tat Ms. Angelou (I recently learned that she had preferred being addressed as “Dr. Angelou” by people outside the circle of her close friends and relatives) was prominently featured as a reader on the program.

My own mother, terminally afflicted with uterine cancer, was present in the audience; she would be gone in a little under two years. Also present was the legendary Kenyan novelist, dramatist, theorist, scholar, educator, thinker and political activist, Prof. (James) Ngugi wa Thiong’o and his second wife, Njeri, seated quietly in a corner of the lecture theater in which the Sutherland memorial thanksgiving was held.

After the main event concluded with a Prayer of Thanksgiving impeccably delivered by the Rev.-Dr. Calvin Butts, of the world-famous Abyssinian Baptist Church, who presently doubles as President of the State University of New York’s Westbury, Long Island, Campus, I walked up to Prof. Ngugi, as I had done several times before at conferences, to recognize him and have a brief chat with him as well. The Kenyan literary maven was then a distinguished visiting professor at New York University (NYU). I was a little bit surprised, however, that Prof. Ngugi had not been invited to either briefly speak or even read a prepared tribute to the distinguished subject of our solemn celebration whom, I thought, was quite natural to presume had either known or been acquainted with both the person and work of Prof. Ngugi and vice-versa.

Dr Maya Angelou with Malcom X in Ghana, West Africa in 1964/Photo: Maya Angelou Foundation
Dr Maya Angelou with Malcom X in Ghana, West Africa in 1964/Photo: Maya Angelou Foundation

I would also learn from the latter that he had serendipitously chanced upon the announcement of the event and decided to show up with his wife. It was also quite surprising to me that only a handful of the people in the audience seemed to recognize Prof. Ngugi.

Well, I do not appear on the Friends of Mmofra Foundation- and Cornell University African Studies Center-sponsored Sutherland Memorial Thanksgiving program because I had been contacted very late, at least as I was given to understand at the time, when the lineup of activities had already been printed, according to Prof. Vivian Windley, a City College of New York (CCNY) professor emerita of education. It was she who had invited me to feature on the program by phone. Prof. Windley had gotten to know me through my freelance writing and editorial work for the New York Amsterdam News, one of the leading African American weeklies here in the United States, particularly here in the Northeast.

Evidently, as it later turned out, Prof. Windley had earlier on extended her invitation for me to participate in the Sutherland memorial thanksgiving celebration through the old man but, somehow, the message never got to me. Now, it is very painful to recollect this because this was not the very first time that something relating to my participation in a Sutherland celebration had not been promptly passed on to me by the old man. Sometime between 1968 and 1969, for instance, I had been scheduled to play a little part of the first global performance of a Sutherland play; I had gone through all the rehearsals in which I played a little boy, about 7 or 8 years old, sitting in front of a bookstore, reading book throughout the entire performance of the play.

I don’t remember which Sutherland play I had rehearsed for, presently, but what I do regret, to this day, is the fact that because I missed the first formal and official performance of that Sutherland play, naturally, a substitute who had never participated in any of the rehearsals, and who appears to have been plucked from the audience, in a spur-of-moment fashion, that one particular, became the one whose name would be published on the “dramatic characters” (or dramatis personae) page of the published edition of the Sutherland play.

It appears that the old man had had his own axe to grind with Ms. Sutherland; he would later tell me, well into my young adulthood, right here in New York City, that he had composed a song titled “Enye Wo Na W’aye Odasani” (“It Is Not Your Fault, Humankind”), as a performing arts student at the erstwhile University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama (now the School for the Performing Arts), which Ms. Sutherland had incorporated into one of her plays without his permission.

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D. Department of English Nassau Community College of SUNY Garden City, New York Board Member, The Nassau Review

May 31, 2014