Author, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou died at age 86 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina last Wednesday. Angelou had been frail and suffering from heart problems, according to her agent.
Angelou's contributions to the literary world are legion. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than fifty years.
Maya Angelou (Marguerite Ann Johnson) was born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. Angelou attended high school in San Francisco, where she studied dance and drama. At the age of 14, she dropped out of school and became the city's first African-American, female street car conductor . She later graduated from high school,and soon after gave birth to her son, Guy. As a young woman she worked as a cook, prostitute, night-club dancer and performer, cast-member of the opera Porgy and Bess.
Angelou's most famous work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, tells of the life of Marguerite Ann Johnson up to the age of 16. Abandoned by her parents and raped at the age of 7 by her mother's boyfriend, she was homeless and became a teen mother. The book, which has been banned many times, has become a mainstay of student reading lists.
Although she was called Dr. Angelou, she never went to college. But she had more than 30 honorary degrees and taught American Studies for years at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. She also spoke six languages, and worked as a newspaper editor in Egypt and Ghana.
Maya Angelou will be remembered for her stunning poetry, and for her words of inspiration, which will provide a source of strength and courage for generations to come.