|Dr Maya Angelou|
The AP today reports that Sen. Mark Pryor says Maya Angelou’s life
was shaped by her childhood spent in the Arkansas town of Stamps and Arkansans
will forever be grateful for her impact on the world.
Angelou, who moved back and forth between Stamps and San Francisco as a
child, died Wednesday at the age of 86.
She gained acclaim for her first book, her autobiography “I Know Why the
Caged Bird Sings,” making her one of the first African-American women to write
Pryor says Angelou’s time in Stamps helped shape her outlook on life as well
as her future music, literature and poetry. He says Arkansas and the nation
will be forever grateful for her “courage, talent, and impact on our world.”
NEW YORK (AP) — Maya Angelou was gratified, but not surprised by her extraordinary fortune.
“I’m not modest,” she told The Associated Press in 2013. “I have no
modesty. Modesty is a learned behavior. But I do pray for humility,
because humility comes from the inside out.”
Her story awed millions. The young single mother who worked at strip
clubs to earn a living later danced and sang on stages around the world.
A black woman born poor wrote and recited the most popular presidential
inaugural poem in history. A childhood victim of rape, shamed into
silence, eventually told her story through one of the most widely read
memoirs of the past few decades.
Angelou, a Renaissance woman and cultural pioneer, died Wednesday
morning at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, her son, Guy B.
Johnson, said in a statement. The 86-year-old had been a professor of
American studies at Wake Forest University since 1982.
“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She
was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace,” Johnson said.
Angelou had been set to appear this week at the Major League Baseball
Beacon Awards Luncheon, but canceled in recent days citing an
Tall and regal, with a deep, majestic voice, she was unforgettable
whether encountered through sight, sound or the printed word. She was an
actress, singer and dancer in the 1950s and 1960s and broke through as
an author in 1970 with “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which became
standard (and occasionally censored) reading and made Angelou one of the
first black women to enjoy mainstream success. “Caged Bird” was the
start of a multipart autobiography that continued through the decades
and captured a life of hopeless obscurity and triumphant, kaleidoscopic
The world was watching in 1993 when she read her cautiously hopeful
“On the Pulse of the Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s first
inauguration. Her confident performance openly delighted Clinton and
made publishing history by making a poem a best-seller, if not a
For President George W. Bush, she read another poem,
“Amazing Peace,” at the 2005 Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the
White House. Presidents honored her in return with a National Medal of
Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest
civilian honor. In 2013, she received an honorary National Book Award.
“sound of language,” ”the music in language,” as she explained to The
Associated Press in 2013. But she lived so many lives. She was a wonder
to Toni Morrison, who marveled at Angelou’s freedom from inhibition, her
willingness to celebrate her own achievements. She was a mentor to
Oprah Winfrey, whom she befriended when Winfrey was still a local
television reporter, and often appeared on her friend’s talk show
She mastered several languages and published not just poetry,
but advice books, cookbooks and children’s stories. She wrote music,
plays and screenplays, received an Emmy nomination for her acting in
“Roots,” and never lost her passion for dance, the art she considered
closest to poetry.
“The line of the dancer: If you watch (Mikhail) Baryshnikov and you
see that line, that’s what the poet tries for. The poet tries for the
line, the balance,” she told The Associated Press in 2008, shortly
before her 80th birthday.
Her very name as an adult was a reinvention. Angelou was born
Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis and raised in Stamps, Ark., and San
Francisco, moving back and forth between her parents and her
grandmother. She was smart and fresh to the point of danger, packed off
by her family to California after sassing a white store clerk in
Arkansas. Other times, she didn’t speak at all: At age 7, she was raped
by her mother’s boyfriend and didn’t talk for years. She learned by
reading, and listening.
“I loved the poetry that was sung in the black church: ‘Go down
Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,’” she told the AP. “It just seemed to
me the most wonderful way of talking. And ‘Deep River.’ Ooh! Even now it
can catch me. And then I started reading, really reading, at about 7
1/2, because a woman in my town took me to the library, a black school
library. … And I read every book, even if I didn’t understand it.”
At age 9, she was writing poetry. By 17, she was a single mother. In
her early 20s, she danced at a strip joint, ran a brothel, was married,
and then divorced. But by her mid-20s, she was performing at the Purple
Onion in San Francisco, where she shared billing with another future
star, Phyllis Diller. She also spent a few days with Billie Holiday, who
was kind enough to sing a lullaby to Angelou’s son, Guy, surly enough
to heckle her off the stage and astute enough to tell her: “You’re going
to be famous. But it won’t be for singing.”
After renaming herself Maya Angelou for the stage (“Maya” was a
childhood nickname, “Angelou” a variation of her husband’s name), she
toured in “Porgy and Bess” and Jean Genet’s “The Blacks” and danced with
Alvin Ailey. She worked as a coordinator for the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference, and lived for years in Egypt and Ghana, where she
met Nelson Mandela, a longtime friend; and Malcolm X, to whom she
remained close until his assassination, in 1965. Three years later, she
was helping King organize the Poor People’s March in Memphis, Tenn.,
where the civil rights leader was slain on Angelou’s 40th birthday.
“Every year, on that day, Coretta and I would send each other
flowers,” Angelou said of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, who died in
Angelou was little known outside the theatrical community until “I
Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which might not have happened if James
Baldwin hadn’t persuaded Angelou, still grieving over King’s death, to
attend a party at Jules Feiffer’s house. Feiffer was so taken
by Angelou that he mentioned her to Random House editor Bob Loomis, who
persuaded her to write a book by daring her into it, saying that it was
“nearly impossible to write autobiography as literature.”
“Well, maybe I will try it,” Angelou responded. “I don’t know how it will turn out. But I can try.”