Author, educator, historian and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, one of the great voices in contemporary literature, has died in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, New York Times reports. She was 86.
Recent health problems led Angelou to cancel a scheduled appearance this coming Friday at the MLB Beacon Award Luncheon, where she was to be honoured with the Beacon of Life Award, one of more than 50 awards she received. She posted this final tweet on May 23:
Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.— Maya Angelou (@DrMayaAngelou) May 23, 2014
Angelou grew up in rural Arkansas, and first came to national prominence with the publication of 1969's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her memoir of a childhood in the Jim Crow South — one of the first autobiographies by a black woman in America to reach a wide audience. Over the course of her long career, she wrote several more volumes of autobiography, collections of poetry, personal essays, plays, children's books and even two cookbooks. Her works have become American classics, and have appeared on high school and university curriculums across the country.
In 1993, Angelou became only the second poet in history to read a poem at a presidential inauguration when she recited On the Pulse of Morning at Bill Clinton's first inauguration.
Late last year, Angelou sat down with George for a New Year's Eve Special, one of her final in-depth interviews. The wide-ranging conversation touched on everything from her life and career to her fascinating encounters with people like Tupac Shakur, Hillary Clinton and Martin Luther King, Jr. to her legacy. She also talked to George about her own mortality:
It would be wonderful to live as long as I’m going to live, and be present. I want to, what I really want to do is be a representative of my race, of the human race. I have a chance to show how kind we can be, how intelligent and generous we can be. I have a chance to teach and to love and to laugh. I know that when I’m finished doing what I’m sent here to do, I will be called home and I will go home without any fear — trepidation some, wondering what’s going to happen.
Here are some other selected quotes from the interview.
On race in America:
We are more and more becoming intelligent. I don’t mean educated, but we Americans are growing up a little bit and that’s a blessing. If we weren’t growing up we wouldn’t have a Black President in there. Black men and women are heading some of the leading universities in our country and corporations, black men and women. Little by little we grow up. It’s hard. Most people don’t grow up, they just get older.
People really are discouraging to people who had other sexual preferences, sexual enjoyments and I was amazed, always amazed at people’s shortsightedness….God made those people and I’m a child of God and so are they. I would be a darn fool to try to tell God what to do with his people, her people, its people. No no no. I don’t do that.
On liking country music:
People decide that if you’re black you only like black things, if you’re white you only like white things, if you’re short you only like short things. That’s so stupid. I mean good music is good music.
On being a mentor:
Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, a lot of the men, especially men, but the women too… they have come here to my home in North Carolina to talk to me and... to ask me how I feel about this or that and they are all my children and I accept that they’re my children. It’s important for me to understand that.
On always telling the truth:
You might be the last person I speak to. Life is life and death is death and so I must be telling the truth when I speak. If I’m irresponsible and tell you want I don’t believe, you will pay for it and that’s not fair.
On being thankful:
The best thing always about anything is to try to stay in an attitude of gratitude. Be thankful. Just say thank you. Thank you to God if you happen to have the blessing of being a believer. Thank you to friends, thank you to strangers, thankful to people who don’t look like you. Thankful to people whose complexion don’t jive with your complexion. Just say thank you.