Renowned poet, novelist and actress Maya Angelou has passed away at the age of 86, according to her publicist, Helen Brann. Angelou died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Throughout her life, Maya Angelou lived. Her childhood was very dark. She was a victim of incest rape, and spent several years mute because she felt that her testimony or “words” were responsible for the death of her abuser and it was too much for her 7 year old mind to process.
Before she became the beloved poet that we all know and love, she worked as an actress, director, fry cook, stripper and even a prostitute. But she was far from an everyday woman or a whore. Those experiences eventually became a lesson to many black girls that were wandering through their lives trying to find their purpose. The message was this: life is cumulative, never devalue your experiences because every piece of the puzzle is important. Black women embraced that reality and were able to rise. Angelou integrated her perspectives to form a truly unique view on life and the human condition.
Angelou never started or finished one college course but she went on to become one of the greatest literary icons of our time. At the heart of Angelou’s work was a deep sense of connectedness with the world and its people. She was highly accomplished in life, earning 55 honorary doctorate degrees, a Nobel Laureate title and she was a full time professor.
There had been countless attempts to ban her books from the United States but her novels were embraced by high schools and universities around the world. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1970 and has been followed by subsequent self-portraits, including Gather Together in My Name, Singin’ and Swingin’, Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, The Heart of a Woman, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, and A Song Flung Up to Heaven. Each volume has Angelou’s touch of storytelling and dramatic rendition.
Angelou’s death is a great loss to the creative community, as her contributions to society went well beyond her written word. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one of the quintessential American classics, comparable to Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby. Her books, poetry and persona all radiate triumph in the face of prejudice, rape, abandonment and angst. Her legacy is the hope, strength and fortitude she inspires not only in African-American women but all women.
Here’s her performance of her most known written work, Phenomenal Woman: