Maya Angelou Maya Angelou Memorial

Born: April 04, 1928 in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA
Died: May 28, 2014 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA

Poet, Writer, and Activist Maya Angelou Dies at 86

Award-winning poet, writer, and Civil Rights activist Maya Angelou died on Wednesday, May 28, 2014, at the age of 86.

An inspiration to African Americans, women, and survivors from all walks of life, Angelou garnered international acclaim following the release of her National Book Award-nominated book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” The memoir depicts difficult and identifiable experiences of rape, racist oppression, and the quest for personal identity. She went on to have a prolific and acclaimed 50-year writing career, publishing several autobiographies, essays, and poetry books, as well as screenplays for plays, movies, and TV.

Angelou’s art and activism were closely intertwined, and she is credited for ushering in a new era of black feminism in which African American women could be multidimensional protagonists and unabashedly speak truth to power, or as scholar Hilton Als noted, “write about blackness from the inside, without apology or defense.” The recitation of her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, lead reviewer Elsie B. Washington to dub her “the black woman’s poet laureate.” In a world where women of color and other marginalized groups continue to battle oppression, Maya Angelou’s legacy lives on as a stark reminder of our brutal history and a beacon of progress.

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis. Three years after her birth, Angelou’s parents divorced. At the age of eight, Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend and subsequently became mute for several years. She eventually relearned to speak and attended a drama and dance high school in San Francisco, but she dropped out due to her pregnancy at 17.  

Prior to her writing career, she held several occupations, including: fry cook, prostitute, nightclub dancer and performer, streetcar conductor, stage actress, and journalist. She was an active member of the Civil Rights movement, working with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, and helping to coordinate the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a Civil Rights organization.

Angelou married Greek electrician Tosh Angelos in 1951. Following their split, she had a relationship with South African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make in 1961. Her second marriage was to Welsh carpenter Paul du Feu in 1973. She is survived by her only son, Guy Johnson, a grandchild, and two great-grandchildren.

Jen Udan on May 28, 2014