Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

Maya Angelou has died at the age of eighty-six. The revered literary voice internationally recognized for her commitment to civil rights, justice, education, and equality passed away yesterday at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Margalit Fox of the New York Times writes that her literary agent reported she had been frail and suffering heart problems. Among the dozens of awards Angelou has received—including thirty honorary doctoral degrees and a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize—she was given the National Medal of Arts in 2000 and Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. She was also nominated for a Tony Award, received three Grammys for her spoken-word albums, and served on two presidential committees.

Angelou began her career in roles including a fry cook and nightclub dancer, jobs that eventually led her to become a journalist and editor in Egypt and Ghana during decolonization. During this time she met Malcom X and returned to the United States to work as an activist and, after his death, began working with Martin Luther King, Jr., who was killed on her birthday. She simultaneously wrote and produced plays, movies, and public television programs, and authored several books, including the 1969 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, among one of the first autobiographies by a black woman to reach a general public, and a profound examination of racism and sexism in the United States. Said President Obama: “Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time—a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.”