The prolific African-American writer, known for her lyrical
prose and regal speaking voice, died quietly at her home in
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Angelou's family said in a
statement. No cause of death was given.
Major League Baseball had planned to honor her in Houston on
Friday as part of the Civil Rights Game festivities, but Angelou
announced last week that she would be unable to attend due to
Angelou, who was also a civil rights activist, playwright,
actress, singer, dancer and professor during her varied career,
penned more than 30 books and won numerous awards, including the
country's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of
Freedom, from President Barack Obama in 2011.
Her latest work, "Mom & Me & Mom," about her mother and
grandmother and what they taught her, was released last year. In
her last tweet on May 23, Angelou said, "Listen to yourself and
in that quietude you might hear the voice of God."
Literary and entertainment figures, politicians and fans mourned
her passing on Wednesday.
Obama said his sister, Maya, was named for the author, whom he
called "a brilliant writer, a fierce friend and a truly
"A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop
speaking – but the voice she found helped generations of
Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the
rest of us to be our best selves," Obama said in a statement.
Media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who frequently threw lavish birthday
parties for Angelou and considered her a mentor, said she would
remember her friend most for how she lived her life.
"She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence
and a fierce grace," Winfrey said.
Angelou, who was 6 feet tall, was born Marguerite Johnson in St.
Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928. She spent part of her
childhood in Stamps, Arkansas with her grandmother after her
At age 7, Angelou was raped by her mother's boyfriend, who was
later beaten to death in an assault that some believed was
carried out by Angelou's uncles. The trauma of the rape and her
assailant's death left Angelou mute for six years.
She began writing during that silent period. She would chronicle
the first 17 years of her life in the 1969 autobiography "I Know
Why the Caged Bird Sings," which her friend, writer James
Baldwin, had encouraged her to write.
The book, which covers the racism Angelou had faced in the 1930s
and '40s and her fantasies of being blond and white, is
considered an American classic.
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She never went to college but collected more than 30 honorary
degrees. As a teenager Angelou moved to San Francisco, where she
pursued an entertainment career, became an unwed mother at 17 and
also found a job as a streetcar conductor.
Working as a calypso singer and dancer, she changed her name to Maya
Angelou - based on a childhood nickname and the last name of her
first of at least three husbands, Tosh Angelos.
In the late 1950s she moved to New York and joined the Harlem
Writers Guild before going to Africa, where she worked for
newspapers in Cairo and Accra, Ghana.
In subsequent years she mixed writing with singing and working on
projects with civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and
Malcolm X. For years she did not celebrate her birthday because it
coincided with the anniversary of King's assassination.
Angelou also directed, wrote and acted in movies, plays and
television programs and was a songwriter, educator and popular
lecturer. Her acting credits included a role in the ground-breaking
television mini-series "Roots" and she wrote the script and score
for the movie "Georgia, Georgia."
She was a Grammy winner for three spoken-word albums.
Nathan O. Hatch, the president of Wake Forest University, where
Angelou had been a professor of American studies since 1982, said
she was a "towering figure" at the school and in American culture
with a profound influence in civil rights and racial reconciliation.
In addition to "Mom & Me & Mom," Angelou's other autobiographical
works included "Gather Together in My Name," "Singin' and Swingin'
and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas," "A Song Flung Up to Heaven,"
"Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now," "The Heart of a Woman"
and "All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes."
At Bill Clinton's request, Angelou wrote "On the Pulse of Morning"
and recited the poem at his 1993 presidential inauguration.
"We share the gratitude of so many for Dr. Angelou's contributions
to literature, human rights, and social justice. Her legacy is one
that all writers and readers across the world can admire and aspire
to," said Harold Augenbraum, the executive director of the National
(Additional reporting by Patricia Reaney in New York; Editing by
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