Today we lost a true legend, the great Dr. Maya Angelou, who, among other things, is an acclaimed poet, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, civil rights activist and mother. And while we mourn the death of one of our beloved, we celebrate the life of a trailblazer, who’s legacy will live well past her 86 years. As a tribute, we recognize three remarkable facets of Angelou’s life to commemorate an extraordinary existence lived to the fullest.
1. Angelou had a tragic upbringing. At the age of eight, Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. The man was found guilty and jailed for only one day. Four days after his release, he was murdered, presumably by Maya’s uncles. This incident left Angelou mute for almost five years, believing that her voice killed him. It was during this period of silence that the civil rights activist developed her extraordinary memory, her love for books and literature, and her ability to listen and observe the world around her. When she was twelve and a half an educated black woman was able to get her to speak; by emphasizing the importance of the spoken word; explaining the nature and importance of education, and instilling in her a love of poetry. Angelou graduated at the top of her eighth-grade class.
2. Angelou’s most famous work was her autobiograghy, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). The book is a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma. The book begins with three-year-old Maya and ends when she becomes a mother at the age of 16. The poet transforms from a victim of racism with an inferiority complex into a self-possessed, dignified young woman capable of responding to prejudice. This work brought her international recognition and critical acclaim. However, because of the book’s graphic depiction of childhood rape, racism, and sexuality it has been banned in some schools and libraries.
3. Although Angelou is a famous poet, she has a noteworthy film, theater and television career. In 1972, she was the first black woman to have a screenplay, Georgia, Georgia, produced and also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She’s also a talented actress and was nominated for a Tony award for her 1973 Broadway performance in Look Away; and she was also nominated for an Emmy for her 1977 performance in Roots.
More can be said about the late, great, Maya Angelou, but for now we’ll celebrate a portion of this living legend’s life, who will be remembered in history for years to come.