The Writer and the Politician

December 11, 2013

They had first met in Cairo, in 1961, when she was working for “The Arab Observer,” an English-language weekly, and married to Vusumzi Make.  Make and Mandela were political enemies, as were their organizations — the Pan Africanist Congress and the African National Congress — but Mandela had no unkind words for his rival.

Soon after that, Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, where he had a chance to know Angelou better.   Her books had been smuggled in; he read them, then passed them on to other prisoners.

And now she’s written a poem for him, “His Day is Done” posted on YouTube by the U.S. State Department, viewed by over 850,000 people.

I think of two other comparable friendships: W. E. B. DuBois, invited by Nkame Nkrumah to move to Ghana and assume the editorship of the Encyclopedia Africana at the age of 93, spending the last two years of his life in that country.   And, equally important: Henry James, during World War I, deciding to become a British citizen and asking his old friend, the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, to be a witness at the ceremony, so that to the country where he’d been residing for 40 years, he could now pledge “my explicit, my material and my spiritual allegiance, and throwing into the scale of her fortune my all but imponderable moral weight–a poor thing but mine own.”

Angelou, DuBois, James.    A good list.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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