Many felt as though they knew the late Maya Angelou from her writing and public appearances. Marcia Ann Gillespie, former editor-in-chief of Essence and Ms. magazines, felt much the same -- before Angelou called her on the phone.
"Literally, she called my office," Gillespie, who was at the time editor of Essence, told Salon. "She invited me to lunch and I was blown away, because the great Maya Angelou was calling me. We had lunch at a pie restaurant." There, Angelou passed on her phone number to Gillespie, who was hesitant about using it. But then, Gillespie recalled, "Several weeks went by and she called me again. She said, 'Perhaps I was being presumptuous, but I thought we had a wonderful connection and I was looking forward to getting to know you better.'"
Despite her fame, Gillespie said, Angelou was uninterested in putting on airs -- she recalled a cruise to Key West that Oprah Winfrey threw for Angelou's birthday, at which luminaries including Coretta Scott King rubbed elbows with Angelou's two housekeepers, invited as guests. "They were as honored as anyone else there."
Over the years, Gillespie and Angelou became close friends. They spoke frequently on the phone; Angelou would offer feedback on articles that Gillespie wrote. "She did really push me -- you need to write, you need to write, you're a writer -- but she never nagged!" Gillespie said. She recalled calling Angelou in a moment of desperation after a breakup. "I remember so clearly," Gillespie said, "she asked me: 'Do you have matches? Go get them. Now this is what i want you to do. I want you to strike a match and look at that match. When a match gets down to the blue, the blue goes away. The fire goes out. That's what you need to do. You're in the blue -- now let's get that fire out.'"