+1#1May 28th, 2014
NEW YORK, N.Y. - Maya Angelou's story awed millions. A childhood victim of rape, she broke through silence and shame to tell her tale in one of the most widely read memoirs of the 20th century. A black woman born into poverty and segregation, she recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history.
"I'm not modest," she told The Associated Press in 2013. "I have no modesty. Modesty is a learned behaviour. But I do pray for humility, because humility comes from the inside out."
Angelou, a renaissance woman and cultural pioneer, died Wednesday at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86.
"She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace," said her son, Guy B. Johnson.
Tall and regal, with a deep, majestic voice, she was unforgettable whether encountered in person, through sound or the printed word. She was an actress, singer and dancer in the 1950s and 1960s and made a brave and sensational debut as an author in 1969 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 literary 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 fame.
The world was watching in 1993 when she read her cautiously hopeful "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Bill Clinton's first inauguration. Her confident performance openly delighted Clinton and made publishing history by making a poem a bestseller. For President George W. Bush, she read another poem, "Amazing Peace," at the 2005 Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the White House. Presidents honoured her in return with a National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honour. In 2013, she received an honorary National Book Award.
She called herself a poet, in love with the "sound of language," ''the music in language," as she explained to the AP 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 program. 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.
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