Maya Angelou, the legendary, brilliant, and matchless American author, civil rights activist, director, educator, speaker, performer, and poet whose career has spanned five decades, has passed away at age 86.
As outlined in her 1969 autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Angelou grew up in both Missouri and Arkansas. After she was raped by her mother's boyfriend as a child, Angelou did not speak for five years because she felt responsible for his subsequent murder. "I still don't find it cathartic," Angelou said in 2005 of writing so personally about her life. "If it was really cathartic, it would wipe it out. Alas, that is not so."
Dr. Angelou was a dancer, singer and actor before moving to New York City where she began to write and got involved in the Civil Rights Movement. She forged relationships with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and James Baldwin. She would eventually write scripts for television, plays and movies. She was a true renaissance woman (Angelou didn't write I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings until she was 40).
"Angelou often gets treated as public property," Gary Younge wrote in the Guardian in 2002. "People think they know her. Not surprising, given that she has told them so much about herself. For, probably more than almost any other writer alive, Angelou's life literally is her work."
A close friend and mentor of Oprah Winfrey's, Angelou and her words have often been featured by Oprah. "I don't know when I know enough," she told Oprah recently about her constant gathering of information.
Here she is reciting her poem "And I Still Rise":
In 1993, Angelou read her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Clinton's Inauguration. She's spent the most recent years of her life lecturing and has held the position of Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University since 1982.