Having taught the world about that the power of words, author and poet Maya Angelou has died early Wednesday morning at the age of 86. Born in St. Louis, Missouri and later raised in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou would live a life as an actress, a dancer, music composer, and a director. However, it was her work as a writer that would bring Angelou to the literary world stage.
Dr. Maya Angelou would have penned a total of seven autobiographies and was in the midst of writing another book at the time of her death. Her book entitled I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is considered one of Angelou’s most prolific works and has been studied in many literature courses in colleges and universities. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings held great significance as it was the first work by an African-American woman who discussed her life in detail in the written form. In 1971, Angelou would received a Pulizer Prize nomination for her poetic work Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie and solidify her place as a literary master. She would be hand selected by President Bill Clinton to recite an original poem On the Pulse of Morning during his 1993 presidential inauguration. Throughout her career, Maya Angelou had received over a dozen honorary degrees from many colleges and universities and most recently in 2011, President Barack Obama presented Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Divorced in 1954, Angelou had one child, a son. According to reports, Maya Angelou would marry and divorce a second time. Over the years, she developed a close relationship with television icon Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey would look to Angelou and a spiritual mentor and the two would grow into a very deep connection where each would refer to the other as a kind of mother-daughter bond.
Dr. Angelou leaves behind a legacy of using the written word as a tool to focus a lens on themes of sex, race, God, community, spirituality, and justice. Throughout the course of her life and career, Angelou has used her life as an instrument to inform and teach as evidenced by her many years working as professor of American Studies at Winston-Salem’s Wake Forest University as well as standing on the front lines beside Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King during the days of the civil-rights movement.
Over the past two months, Maya Angelou had been experiencing poor health and had been forced to cancel a series of scheduled personal appearances. Back in April, Angelou was set to attend an event in Fayetteville, Arkansas sponsored by the Fayetteville Public Library but had to pull out of the event after falling sick and landing in hospital. Angelou was also set to receive a special honor by the Major League Baseball League during their 2014 MLB Beacon Award Luncheon set to take place in Houston, Texas on May 30. Resting and attempting to get well, Maya Angelou was found dead by a caretaker Wednesday morning. While no immediate known cause of death is cited, those close to the poet and author confirm she had been in a frail state over the past few months.
By Hal Banfield