Maya Angelou, a renowned American poet, author and civil rights activist died on Wednesday aged 86.
Maya Angelou. Photo: Bob Richman © 2010 Harpo, Inc.
“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace,” her family said in a statement on Angelou’s Facebook. They said she passed away quietly at home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Angelou had been honored with more than 50 awards, including the US highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for her collected works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, most notably her groundbreaking memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made history as one of the first nonfiction best-sellers by an African-American woman.
Health problems made Angelou recently cancel an appearance at the 2014 MLB Beacon Award Luncheon, where she was to be honored with the Beacon of Life Award.
Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. As a child she was traveling between her hometown and Stamps, Arizona, where she witnessed racial segregation first-hand. This experience would later inform some of the more searing chapters of her books.
The famous poet got into writing after a childhood tragedy. When she was 7, her mother’s boyfriend defiled her. He was later beaten to death by a mob after she testified against him.
“I thought my voice had killed him, so it was better not to speak – so I simply stopped speaking,” she said. She remained mute for five years, but read voraciously.
Angelou later became a singer, a dancer, cocktail waitress, prostitute and an actress before beginning her writing career.
Her career spanned the globe, including stints as an editor in Egypt a and a music and drama school teacher in Ghana. Through her writing and interviews, her strength and eloquence as a role model for those seeking to overcome inequality and injustice won her many admirers.
Angelou was also a prominent civil rights activist and a friend of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Her poetry collections included Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (1971), And Still I Rise (1978), Now Sheba Sings the Song (1987) and I Shall Not Be Moved (1990).
In her last tweet dated May 23, 2014, Angelou wrote: