News / Arts & Entertainment

US Poet, Author Maya Angelou Dies at 86

  • Maya Angelou answers questions at her portrait unveiling at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, April 5, 2014.
  • Maya Angelou talks with Johnnetta Cole, director of the National Museum of African Art, at Maya Angelou's portrait unveiling at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, April 5, 2014.
  • Maya Angelou receives the 2010 Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, Feb. 15, 2011.
  • South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu listens as author Maya Angelou delivers a tribute to him at the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding Award Ceremony in Washington, Nov. 21, 2008.
  • Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey share laughs during a star-studded double-taping of "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular," Chicago, May 17, 2011.
  • American poet and writer Maya Angelou shown on Dec. 15, 1992.
  • Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is shown with three of 1983's six women in the field of communications who received the Matrix Award from the New York Chapter of Women in Communications, Inc. From left: Jane Bryant Quinn, Maya Angelou and Mary McGrory.
  • Maya Angelou, November 3, 1971.
Maya Angelou
VOA News
Acclaimed poet, author, playwright, actress and activist Maya Angelou has died at age 86 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, stilling a leading voice in American literature.
 
The prolific African-American writer provided eloquent commentary on race, gender and living fully. She penned more than 30 books, such as “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” She won numerous awards and was honored last year by the National Book Awards for her service to the literary community, Reuters reported. In 2011, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor. She read a poem at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, in 1993.
 
Angelou was to have been honored Friday in Houston at Major League Baseball’s Beacon Awards Luncheon, before the annual Civil Rights game, but had declined last week, citing health reasons.    
 
A Facebook post attributed to her son, Guy B. Johnson, said Angelou “passed quietly in her home before 8:00 a.m. EST.
 
Maya Angelou
 
  • Born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Mo.
  • Served as a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
  • Worked as editor in Egypt and Ghana in the 1960s
  • 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' published in 1969
  • First African-American female member of the Directors Guild of America
  • Recited a poem at Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration
  • Won 3 Grammys, National Medal of Arts, Presidential Medal of Freedom

“Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension,” the post continued. “She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”
 
The executive director of the National Book Foundation, Harold Augenbraum, described her as “an extraordinary symbol in the United States of what can be accomplished using the arts."

"She was beyond simply being a writer of autobiography and poetry,” Augenbraum told Reuters. He said Angelou used "writing as a transcendence medium to further the individual."

Related video report by VOA's Mary Alice Salinas:
 
Maya Angelou, Legendary American Author and Poet, Dies at 86i
X
Mary Alice Salinas
May 28, 2014 9:28 PM
Legendary American author, poet, playwright and activist Maya Angelou has died at 86. Her family says she "passed quietly" at her North Carolina home on Wednesday, but they did not disclose the cause of death. Angelou rose to fame after writing about her life as an impoverished black girl growing up in the segregated South. VOA's Mary Alice Salinas has more about her life and career.

An inspiration
 
Angelou also was mourned at Wake Forest University, where she had been a professor of American studies since 1982. The Winston-Salem university, on its website, lamented the loss of “beloved poet, author, actress, civil rights actress and professor  Dr. Maya Angelou,” saying her “life and teachings inspired millions around the world.”

At Wake Forest, Angelou taught literature, ethics and writing. In a 2012 interview with the student newspaper, Old Gold and Black, she said, “I have found that I’m not a writer who can teach, I really am a teacher who can write.”
 
Born Marguerite Johnson in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, she spent much of her childhood with her grandmother in tiny Stamps, Arkansas. For Southern blacks, it was a time of racial segregation and economic hardship. What made life tolerable, she said, were the stories, songs and folk wisdom passed down from one generation to the next.
 
Angelou credited her tiny childhood church with teaching her about how such art could work magic.
 
“When all the members were there, we had 32 people in the whole church," she said. "And yet in that church, I learned so much about the power of art to help human beings transcend almost anything."
 
Angelou bore her only child at age 16, the Raleigh New & Observer reported, noting that Angelou married and divorced at least twice. She supported herself and her son in various jobs – as a waitress, cook, streetcar conductor and calypso dancer and singer. While performing in Europe, she adopted a brother’s nickname for her and amended a husband’s surname to create a stage name. She worked as an editor for the Arab Observer in Cairo in the early 1960s. 
 
She mixed civil rights activism with her writing and performing. According to the Associated Press, she worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Council and then, while living in Egypt and Ghana, befriended South African leader and later President Nelson Mandela. She was close to Malcolmn X until his 1965 assassination. She was helping Martin Luther King Jr. organize the Poor People’s March in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, when the civil rights leader was shot and killed.  
 
Urged to record her stories

Angelou’s literary career began after the writer James Baldwin and others heard her childhood stories and urged her to write them down.

FILE: At Maya Angelou’s portrait unveiling at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the writer, seated, is joined by, from left, National African Art Museum director Johnnetta Cole, National Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet and Oprah Winfrey in Washington, D.C., in April 2014.FILE: At Maya Angelou’s portrait unveiling at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the writer, seated, is joined by, from left, National African Art Museum director Johnnetta Cole, National Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet and Oprah Winfrey in Washington, D.C., in April 2014.
x
FILE: At Maya Angelou’s portrait unveiling at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the writer, seated, is joined by, from left, National African Art Museum director Johnnetta Cole, National Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet and Oprah Winfrey in Washington, D.C., in April 2014.
FILE: At Maya Angelou’s portrait unveiling at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the writer, seated, is joined by, from left, National African Art Museum director Johnnetta Cole, National Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet and Oprah Winfrey in Washington, D.C., in April 2014.
The 1969 publication of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" brought her wide acclaim. The coming-of-age story, set in the American South, grappled with issues such as racism and rape.
 
Angelou's work again found a vast audience when she read “On the Pulse of the Morning” at Clinton’s inauguration. While she supported Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race, she reveled in the election of the nation’s first black president. In 2011, Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2013, she received an honorary National Book Award.

A prolific writer, Angelou produced numerous essays, memoirs, screenplays, children’s books, cookbooks, but she is best known for “Caged Bird,” “Still I Rise, “Letter to My Daughter” and “Still I Rise.” Her latest work "Mom & Me & Mom," about her mother and grandmother and what they taught her, was released last year.

A varied career

She also appeared in film and television, and recorded music and her poetry. She won three Grammys for her spoken-word albums, the Associated Press reported, and in 2013 received an honorary National Book Award for her contributions to the literary community.

She was a friend and mentor to the novelist Toni Morrison and media giant Oprah Winfrey, among others. She appeared frequently on “Oprah,” Winfrey’s long-running television talk show and, in recent years, had an audience on the XM radio channel “Oprah and Friends.”   
 
She shared some of her writing on a Facebook account.  One of her last posts, dated May 23, was this: “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”
 
Error rendering storify.

VOA's Faith Lapidus contributed to this report. Some information was provided by Reuters.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
May 29, 2014 12:01 AM
REST IN PEACE MAYA ANGELOU. WE LOVE YOU, YOU WILL ALWAYS LIVE IN YOUR HEARTS, AND YOUR LEGACY LIVES FOREVER. YOU CHANGE HISTORY BABE GIRL IN THE US AND AROUND THE WORLD. ALL I CAN SAY TODAY TO YOU MAYA IS, KEEP ON LIVING. WE MISSED YOU, BYE NOW MAYA.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings: Nnekai
|| 0:00:00
...  
🔇
X
August 26, 2015 2:42 PM
Nigerian singer, songwriter Nneka sits down with Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from her latest CD, "My Fairy Tales" and to talk about her inspirations and influences.

Nigerian singer, songwriter Nneka sits down with Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from her latest CD, "My Fairy Tales" and to talk about her inspirations and influences.