Skip to main content

See also:

Maya Angelou dies at 86

Maya Angelou flanked by Bill Clinton
Maya Angelou flanked by Bill Clinton
Photo by Larry Busacca

One of The United States’ most revered living poets died quietly today in her home in Winston, Salem, North Carolina. A poet and human rights activist, Maya Angelou was 86. Her life was shaped by a shattering loss of innocence when she was raped by her husband’s boyfriend, and her voice for women, civil rights and humanity only got stronger with the passage of time. Today women everywhere remember the woman shaped by her times, whose voice was so resonant in this generation. Staten Islanders remembered Maya Angelou’s life in today’s SI Live. “Ms. Angelou rose from poverty, segregation and violence to become a force on stage, screen and the printed page,” added the report today (May 28).

Wake Forest University announced Angelou's death in a news release today. She gained acclaim for her first book, her autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," making her one of the first African-American women to write a best-seller, added

In 1998, she directed the feature film "Down in the Delta" about a drug-wrecked woman who returns to the home of her ancestors in the Mississippi Delta and she was the poet chosen to read at President Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993. She wrote and read an original composition, "On the Pulse of Morning," which became a million-dollar seller, added the report.

Added NPR of Maya Angelou: “ In her memoirs, Maya Angelou explored how race and gender affected her life. Her first memoir, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," was published in 1969 and describes growing up in the segregated South. It includes the story of how, as a child, Angelou was raped by her mother's boyfriend. After the rape, she withdrew into herself and went through a long period of not speaking.”

Added the report, Angelou got pregnant and became a mother when she was 16 and unmarried. “Her autobiographies describe how she traveled around the country with her son, Guy, earning her living as a waitress, prostitute, madam, singer, actress and writer. In the '60s, Angelou was active in the civil rights movement and worked with Martin Luther King Jr. as the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was the inaugural poet for Bill Clinton when he took office in 1993,” added NPR.

Maya in her own words to NPR in 1986 said "I find in my poetry and prose the rhythms and imagery of the best — when I'm at my best — of the good Southern black preachers. The lyricism of the spirituals and the directness of gospel songs and the mystery of blues are in my music, are in my poetry and prose, or I've missed everything."

Maya Angelou told NPR that her childhood was a huge influence on her later life. "I thought of myself as a giant ear which could just absorb all sound, and I would go into a room and just eat up the sound. I memorized so many poets. I just had sheets of poetry; still do. I would listen to the accents, and I still love the way human beings sound. There is no human voice which is unbeautiful to me. I love them, and so I'm able to learn languages, because I really love the way people talk. I would listen. I still get excited about any human being speaking or singing."

CNN: added today in its report: “A literary voice revered globally for her poetic command and her commitment to civil rights has fallen silent. Angelou's legacy is twofold. She leaves behind a body of important artistic work that influenced several generations. But the 86-year-old was praised by those who knew her as a good person, a woman who pushed for justice and education and equality.”

Adds CNN: “In her full life, she wrote staggeringly beautiful poetry. She also wrote a cookbook and was nominated for a Tony. She delivered a poem at a presidential inauguration. In 2010, President Barack Obama named her a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor. She was friends with Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and inspired young adults and world celebrities. She sang calypso. She lived through horrors.” Added the report: “Her lasting contribution to literature, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," bore witness to the brutality of a Jim Crow South, portraying racism in stark language. Readers learned of the life of Marguerite Ann Johnson (Angelou's birth name) up to the age of 16: how she was abandoned by her parents and raped by her mother's boyfriend. She was homeless and became a teen mother. Its publication was both daring and historic, given the era of its debut in 1969.”

"All of the writers of my generation must honor the ground broken by Dr. Maya Angelou," author Tayari Jones posted on her Facebook page Wednesday, following the report. "She told a story that wasn't allowed to be told," Jones said on Facebook. "Now, people tell all sorts of things in memoir, but when she told the truth, she challenged a taboo -- not for shock value, but to heal us all."

Black American novelist Julian Mayfield is said to have described the autobiography as "a work of art which eludes description." Added CNN: "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" was an international bestseller and nominated for a National Book Award in 1970. "If you want to know what it was like to live at the bottom of the heap before, during and after the American Depression, this exceptional book will tell you," hailed British critic Paul Bailey. The book became a mainstay of student reading lists, much to the chagrin of some authorities. The book has reportedly been banned several times.”

In her poem “Caged Bird’ Angelou’s words leap off the page ad break our hearts just as the caged bird does in her beloved poem. Today in death we know Angelou, just as the bird in the poem who is surrounded by greats opens her throat to sing Angelou in death is a caged bird no more. Staten Island arts fans may mourn her loss by reading her poetry and her book “I Know Why the Caged bird Sings.” Maya Angelou we will never forget your proud voice and we will always remember that in death you are set free.