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Celebrated American poet, author, and civil rights advocate Maya Angelou died this past Wednesday, May 28, at the age of 86. Maya Angelou embraced life. She was the first African-American female cable car driver in San Francisco, a teenage mother, an editor (in Egypt!), an actress and producer, and a professor. Angelou’s life included abuse and accolades, prejudice and Presidential committees. Her humble beginnings, effervescent spirit, feisty nature, and unflagging belief in mankind’s equality and beauty merged to create an impressive body of work that speaks to readers around the world. This week, pay tribute to an American master, Maya Angelou.
A Full Life —
Angelou’s dedication to the Arts began during high school. Her talent as a writer, poet, dancer, actress, and producer led her across the country and around the world. Visit the official Maya Angelou website and read more about her life as an artist.
Six of Angelou’s books are autobiographies. Each relates, in chronological order, a segment of her life. Together, they tell the story of Angelou’s life from 1935 through 1964. Each also chronicles one woman’s experience as an African-American female. They are heart-breaking, fascinating, provocative, and inspiring. Read The Poetry Foundation biography to discover more about her autobiographies, and to learn about her poetry collections.
For a more personal introduction to Maya Angelou, it is nice to see photos and to watch videos. The official Maya Angelou website shares both. Begin with a collection of photos. Click on the first thumbnail to begin the slideshow; the advance arrow is in the bottom left corner. Next, hear Angelou reflect on her life and world events. Watch three videos in the collection. Begin with Dr. Angelou Reflects on President Obama’s Victory, then scroll down and watch The Power of Words, and select a third video.
Maya Angelou’s friends celebrated her 80th birthday with a book celebrating her life. Follow the links in the left margin to hear her thoughts on creativity, being political, getting God’s attention, and writing her autobiography. Scroll down to read an excerpt of that book.
Maya Angelou received many honorary degrees and awards during her lifetime. Perhaps the most prestigious was the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The President bestows the Medal of Freedom upon a few individuals each year who have made important contributions to national security, international peace, culture, “or other significant public or private endeavors.” In honoring Maya Angelou, President Obama said,
Out of a youth marked by pain and injustice, Dr. Maya Angelou rose with an unbending determination to fight for civil rights and inspire every one of us to recognize and embrace the possibility and potential we hold.
With her soaring poetry, towering prose, and mastery of a range of art forms, Dr. Angelou has spoken to the conscience of our nation. Her soul- stirring words have taught us to reach across division and honor the beauty of our world.
Watch one final interview of Maya Angelou sharing her thoughts on becoming a Medal of Freedom recipient.
Accessible and Inspiring—
Maya Angelou was multi-talented. Yet, she is most remembered as a writer. Her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the chilling and engaging story of her early life is like watching a train wreck—you want to turn away during some parts but it is impossible. Her writing compels you to read on. Her first book has become a classic, and joins the canon of works widely taught in high school. Watch Angelou speak about her childhood in a National Visionary Leadership Project video clip.
Not all of Angelou’s books are autobiographical. Her 2008 collection, Lessons for My Daughters, shares with a worldwide audience of women the anecdotes, poems, essays, and wisdom a life well-lived taught her. She discusses the book with radio host Diane Rehm. Listen to the excerpt from 5:00 through 11:00.
Angelou’s poems have also entered the bloodstream of American consciousness and education. Listen as Maya Angelou introduces and recites her defiant and optimistic classic, Still I Rise. Angelou refuses to be oppressed or defined by others and her writing often delights in what unites people worldwide. Listen to her read Human Family. Perhaps her most historic poem is On the Pulse of a New Morning, written at the request of President-elect Clinton for his inauguration ceremony. Angelou was only the second poet in American history to participate in a Presidential inauguration ceremony.
The Country Remembers—
The greatest sign of Angelou’s rar-reaching sphere of influence was that people worldwide paid tribute to her. News of her death traveled among academics, writers, readers, and dignitaries. President Obama posted an official statement on the White House website. News agencies across the political spectrum paid tribute to Maya Angelou. Watch and read the Fox News and the PBS Newshour videos.
Angelou believed life is to live and so she lived her life without bars, singing her heart’s song. Her song continues to resonate with readers worldwide.