Maya Angelou Dies at 86

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou by Adria Richards
Maya Angelou by Adria Richards

Dr. Maya Angelou died on Wednesday in North Carolina. She was 86 years old.

Angelou’s work spanned across numerous literary and art forms. Her 1969 book, “I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings” became an immediate sensation. The best-selling book detailed her childhood as an African-American girl in the American south. It described her experience of being raped as a child, and the subsequent murder of the rapist. The book discussed other controversial topics, such as lesbianism and out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

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Author James Baldwin called the book, “a Biblical study of life in the midst of death.” It has never gone out of print, and has been the subject of several book bannings.

Angelou wrote six other autobiographies, as well as eighteen books of poetry, and three books of essays. Her 1970 poetry book, “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie,” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

The poet became famous around the world when President Bill Clinton asked her to read a poem at his 1993 inauguration. The poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” earned the poet a Grammy Award. It would be the first of three Grammy Awards in her lifetime.

But before she became a writer, Angelou was known by her birth name, Marguerite Johnson. She sang calypso music in the 1950s and even toured Europe with a “Porgy and Bess” production. Management at the Purple Onion nightclub in San Francisco recommended that she change her name. Thus, she became Maya Angelou.

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Miss Calypso by Maya Angelou
Miss Calypso by Maya Angelou

Throughout her career as a poet and author, Angelou continued to communicate through film and TV. She appeared in the classic TV series, “Roots” in 1977. Angelou directed Alfre Woodard in the 1998 film “Down with the Delta.”

While her countless successes brought Angelou fame, her most notable achievement is her work as a humanitarian and activist. The writer communicated with humility and passion. She emphasized commonality rather than differences. By revealing her heart and strength, Angelou’s work transcended class, race and religion. Her work provided no easy answers, forcing readers to look within themselves.

Maya Angelou Quotes

On President Obama: “His physical self, just being there, his photograph in the newspapers as president of the United States; that has done so much good for the spirit of the African American. We see more and more children wanting to be like President Obama, wanting to go to school.” (Washington Post)

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (USA Today)

“I think men are as crazy as they were, and women as crazy as they were.. I’ve never had a dislike for men. I’ve been badly mistreated by some. But I’ve been loved greatly by some. I married a lot of them. (IMDB)

Facts about Maya Angelou

  • Her last movie role was in Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Family Reunion” in 2009. She played the role of May in 2006.
  • She earned a Tony nomination in 1973 for Best Supporting Actress in “Look Away.”
  • Angelou was the first African American woman to be a cable car conductor in San Francisco.
  • She has writing and acting credits from “The Richard Pryor Special” in 1977.
  • Angelou was active in the Civil Rights Movement, working with Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, in the ‘60s.
  • Her last award was the Norman Mailer Prize, given by The Norman Mailer Center in 2013.

Celebrity Twitter Reactions to Maya Angelou’s Death

  • President Obama: Michelle and I join millions in remembering Maya Angelou, a storyteller whose voice convinced us we all have something to offer. -bo
  • America Ferrera: Maya Angelou is my hero. She gave me courage to love myself and others. Her life was a gift to so many.
  • Cyndi Lauper: Maya Angelou has passed away. She was a great light in the world. I feel honored to live in a world she influenced and touched so deeply.
  • Russell Simmons: RIP to one of the greatest women this world has ever known. Thank you Maya Angelou for all of the gifts and knowledge you gave us…
  • Uzo Aduba: To Dr. Maya Angelou…thank you. For everything. ‪#PhenomenalWoman
  • Neil Patrick Harris: Thank you, Dr. Maya Angelou, for your wonderful words and wisdom. Rest in peace.
  • Kerry Washington: But still, like air, she rises. Yes Ma’am. Rise. Rise. Rise. #MayaAngelou

Maya Angelou: “And Still I Rise”