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Poet Maya Angelou dies at age 86

She was the first African-American woman to make the best-seller list for her nonfiction book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
She was the first African-American woman to make the best-seller list for her nonfiction book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images

I was sitting in my classroom on Wednesday when my husband called to let me know Maya Angelou died at the age of 86.

She was the first African-American woman to make the best-seller list for her nonfiction book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
She was the first African-American woman to make the best-seller list for her nonfiction book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

I shared the news with my students and began reminding them that they had previously completed a project on Angelou.

For Black History Month (February 2014), my students analyzed and memorized the poems “Still I Rise” and “Alone” by Angelou. They also designed poster boards about her life.

The other poet we honored was Langston Hughes. Then we visited the other middle school classrooms to share our presentation, which was a success.

Here are some facts the students learned about Maya Angelou:

  • She was born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri.
  • She was a civil rights activist, dancer, actress, screenwriter, poet, and award-winning memoirist.
  • Angelou wrote the memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969.
  • She was the first African-American woman to make the best-seller list for her nonfiction book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
  • Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die, a collection of her poetry, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
  • She was presented two NAACP Image Awards because of her literary work (in 2005 and 2009).
  • Angelou won three Grammys for her spoken albums.
  • She recited one of her poems, “On the Pulse of Morning”, for President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.
  • Her birth name was Marguerite Annie Johnson.
  • She was raped as a child by her mother’s boyfriend, and Angelou chose not to speak several years after that traumatic incident.
  • Angelou was a single mother at age 16.
  • She married Anastasios Angelopulos in 1952.

Today we mourn the loss of an incredible woman, but in our mourning we will celebrate Maya Angelou’s life because she will never be forgotten.

Let us encourage our children to pursue their dreams just like Maya Angelou, so that they can also leave their indelible mark of success on the earth.