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RIP Maya Angelou

By Harriet Staff

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We’re deeply saddened to learn this morning of the death of Maya Angelou, the legendary poet and activist whose writing inspired a wide audience. She died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina at the age of 86. The New York Times reports, “Her death was confirmed by her longtime literary agent, Helen Brann. No immediate cause of death had been determined, but Ms. Brann said Ms. Angelou had been in frail health for some time and had had heart problems.” Robert Polito, President of the Poetry Foundation, commented on Angelou’s passing by saying:

Maya Angelou was probably America’s most popular and beloved poet since Robert Frost. Although they were very different artists, how appropriate that both were inaugural poets, still a rare and select group. As an activist, actress, singer, memoirist, public figure, and ultimately poet, Angelou centered the arts in a vision of social justice. I just love that iconic photo of her with James Baldwin from the 1960s, two close friends, two great radicals. I last heard Maya Angelou speak in New York this past November, and although she was obviously frail that magnificent voice was intact —intense, questioning, forward-looking, and feisty. Her voice will definitely be missed.

And at CNN, Faith Karimi writes about Angelou’s life as an artist that spanned several decades and professions:

A professor, singer and dancer, Angelou’s work spans several professions. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded her with the Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.

She spent her early years studying dance and drama in San Francisco, but dropped out at age 14, instead becoming the city’s first African-American female cable car conductor.

Angelou later returned to high school to finish her diploma and gave birth a few weeks after graduation. While the 17-year-old single mother waited tables to support her son, she acquired a passion for music and dance, and toured Europe in the mid-1950s in the opera production “Porgy and Bess.” In 1957, she recorded her first album, “Calypso Lady.”

In 1958, Angelou become a part of the Harlem Writers Guild in New York and also played a queen in “The Blacks,” an off-Broadway production by French dramatist Jean Genet.

Affectionately referred to as Dr. Angelou, the professor never went to college. She has more than 30 honorary degrees and taught American studies for years at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.

Read more about her life and achievements here, and for a sampling of her poems, please go here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, May 28th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.