Maya Angelou Dies at 86

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WINSTON-SALEM, N. C. –  Renowned poet, novelist and actress Maya Angelou died Wednesday morning at age 86 at her North Carolina home. Published reports show she had canceled appearances in recent days citing an unspecified illness.

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson in Saint Louis, Missouri, April 4th, 1928, her poetry described “hells” she “lived through” which began at the age of seven, when she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. After she spoke out against him, he was beaten to death by a mob. Young Marguerite blamed herself. She said “I was 7 and a half… and my 7 and a half year old logic deduced that my voice had killed him, so i stopped speaking for almost six years.”

It was during those years of silence…  that she discovered poetry and her love of art. Her poetry was first “physical.” Winning a dance and drama scholarship in San Francisco,  then later touring Europe in 1954, in “Porgy and Bess.”

But her growing love for the written word took her to Egypt and Ghana, where she became a newspaper editor. In Ghana, she met Malcolm X and returned to the U.S. in 1964 to join his fight in the civil rights movement. After Malcolm X’s assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King asked her to join him. He was killed on her birthday, 1968.

The following year, her first memoir was published– “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”  More best-sellers would follow. Her books detailed personal struggles: like having a baby as an unwed teenage. That son later became novelist, Guy Johnson.

Blazing trails on the big and small screens, she directed documentaries. Her screenplay for 1972’s “Georgia, Georgia” was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Maya Angelou was nominated for a Tony Award. She won 3 Grammies and, in 2011, President Obama presented her with “The Presidential Medal of Freedom.” She called herself “Maya,” which was her brother’s nickname for her. “Angelou” came from her first husband’s name, Tosh Angelos.

You can read more about her life and legacy here.