Maya Angelou Passes On

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou, the American poet and author, died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Wednesday. She was 86.
Her son Guy B Johnson confirmed the news in a statement. He said: "Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension.

"She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love."

Johnson said Angelou "passed quietly in her home" sometime before 8am on Wednesday.

A statement from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, where she had served as a professor of American Studies since 1982, called Angelou "a national treasure whose life and teachings inspired millions around the world".

Angelou’s failing health was reported as recently as Tuesday, when she canceled an appearance honoring her with a Beacon of Life Award because of “health reasons”. The ceremony was part of the 2014 MLB Beacon Award Luncheon, in Houston, Texas, part of Major League Baseball’s Civil Rights Games.

Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson, in St Louis, Missouri, in 1928. She described in an NPR interview how her brother's lisp turned Marguerite into Maya.

She survived several personal trials: she was a child of the depression, grew up in the segregated south, survived a childhood rape, gave birth as a teenager, and was, at one time, a prostitute.

She wrote wrote seven autobiographies, including the 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and was a playwright, director, actor, singer, songwriter and novelist.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was an indictment of the racial discrimination she experienced during her childhood. "If growing up is painful for the southern black girl," she wrote, "being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult."

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has had a wide appeal, particularly to younger female readers and continues to appear on school and university reading lists in the US and the UK.

In 1993, she read On the Pulse of the Morning at President Clinton's first inauguration, a performance that made the poem a bestseller. The poem is celebrates the diversity of ethnic groups in the US, and calls on the nation to leave behind cynicism and look forward to a new pride in self and a new dawning.

And as news of her death spread, actors, writers, directors, activists and politicians tweeted thankful and mournful notes reacting to Angelou’s passing.

JK Rowling called her "utterly amazing"; Lena Dunham thanked Angelou for "your power, your politics, your poetry. We need you more than ever."

    Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.
    — Maya Angelou (@DrMayaAngelou) May 23, 2014

Maya Angelou receives a Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, February 15, 2011. REUTERS/Larry Downing


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