Radio Sandwell African / Caribbean News

Author and activist Maya Angelou dies aged 86

2014-05-28 17:06:03

Maya Angelou

Poet, author and activist Maya Angelou has died at the age of 86.

One of America's leading literary voices of the last 50 years, Angelou is best-known for her 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

It was the first of seven volumes of autobiography that traced her life from a childhood of abuse and oppression in the Deep South in the 1930s.

The news of her death was confirmed by the mayor's office in her home town of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Mayor Allen Joines said he was "very sad of her passing".


The BBC's Nick Higham takes a look back at Maya
Angelou's life

A statement from Wake Forest University, where Angelou had been professor of American studies since 1982, said: "Dr Angelou was a national treasure whose life and teachings inspired millions around the world."

Harry Potter author JK Rowling tweeted one of her Angelou's quotes in tribute: "'If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.' Maya Angelou - who was utterly amazing."

Raised by her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou wrote about being raped by her mother's boyfriend at the age of eight. After she told her family what had happened, the boyfriend was killed.

"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.

Angelou later became a singer, a dancer, cocktail waitress, prostitute and an actress before beginning her writing career.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which dealt with the racism and family trauma of her upbringing, spent two years on the US best-seller list.

Her career had many outlets, straddling television, theatre, film, children's books and music.

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).

Her poem On the Pulse of the Morning, written for US President Bill Clinton's first inauguration, struck a nerve with the nation and sold more than a million copies in the US.

She was also commissioned to write poems to mark the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995 and remembered Nelson Mandela in a poem for the US State Department last year.

The National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian award, were among her honours.

She also acted in the groundbreaking 1977 TV drama Roots and earned a Tony Award nomination in 1973 for her performance in the play Look Away.

She wrote the 1968 TV series Black, Blues, Black and became the first African-American woman to have a feature film adapted from one of her stories when her screenplay Georgia, Georgia was made in 1972.

Angelou directed the film Down in the Delta, won three Grammys for her spoken-word albums and received an honorary National Book Award in 2013.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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