New York City got its chance to say farewell to Maya Angelou on Friday.
More than a thousand people piled inside the historic Riverside Church to remember the revered writer, poet and activist, who died in May — and who had, for many years, made Harlem her home.
“She was a bright light wherever she went,” Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. “God surely outdid himself the day he molded Maya Angelou. She was a walking, talking work of art.”
Clinton said she, like generations of Americans, first got to know Angelou’s work through her iconic memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
Angelou, she said, possessed a voice that was “rich, enthralling.”
Clinton, who many expect to run for president in 2016, also reminded the gathering that Angelou backed her in 2008, when she made her first White House bid, losing the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama.
“Her encouragement meant so much to me,” she said.
Angelou, 86, died in May at her home on the North Carolina campus of Wake Forest University, where she had taught for 30 years.
But Angelou had spent some of her best years at her home on W. 120th St. and was a longtime member of the Harlem Writers Guild.
“New York was as much home to Maya Angelou as Winston-Salem,” said Howard Dodson Jr., director emeritus at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
It was, said Dodson, the “center of her universe.”
Nobel laureate Toni Morrison said Angelou helped her get past the death of her son, Slade, in 2010.
“I remember her soothing voice on the telephone at the exact moment when you needed it,” she said.
Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson, said his mother was a fearless civil rights fighter, who urged him to take pride in being African-American.
“I remember being awed by my mother,” he said. “If you truly are interested in holding up and carrying on her legacy, you will not tolerate injustice in your presence.”
Angelou’s grandson, Colin Ashanti Johnson, and her editor, Robert Loomis, also spoke. Valerie Simpson performed the song “I’m Every Woman.” And poet Nikki Giovanni read a poem written in Angelou’s memory that began, “What makes a life extraordinary?”
It ended with this line: “The delicate chores of living that make a life extraordinary that makes, for all of us, a Maya.”