John M. Becker

Maya Angelou Dies at 86

Filed By John M. Becker | May 28, 2014 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Maya Angelou, obituary, rest in peace

maya-angelou-smiling.jpgAcclaimed author, poet, and civil rights advocate Maya Angelou was found dead this morning by her caretaker in North Carolina. She was 86.

Local Fox affiliate WGHP News reports:

Award-winning author, renowned poet and civil rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou has died. She was 86.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines confirmed Angelou was found by her caretaker on Wednesday morning. Angelou's publicist, Helen Brann, also confirmed the news.

Angelou had been reportedly battling health problems. She recently canceled a scheduled appearance of a special event to be held in her honor. Angelou was set to be honored with the "Beacon of Life Award" at the 2014 MLB Beacon Award Luncheon on May 30 in Houston.

CNN adds:

A professor, singer and dancer, among other things, Angelou's work spans different professions. She spent her early years studying dance and drama in San Francisco, California. After dropping out at age 14, she become the city's first African-American female cable car conductor.

Angelou later returned to high school to finish her diploma and gave birth to her son a few weeks after graduation. While the 17-year-old single mother waited tables to support her son, she acquired a passion for music and dance. She toured Europe in the mid-1950s with "Porgy and Bess," an opera production. In 1957, she recorded her first album, "Calypso Lady."

In 1958, Angelou become a part of the Harlem Writers Guild in New York and also played a queen in "The Blacks," an off-Broadway production by French dramatist Jean Genet.

Affectionately referred to as Dr. Angelou, the professor never went to college. She has more than 30 honorary degrees and taught American studies for years at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. "I created myself," she has said. "I have taught myself so much."

In addition to being a renowned advocate for African-American civil rights -- the New York Times calls her a "lyrical witness of the Jim Crow South" -- Angelou was also an outspoken supporter of marriage equality for LGBT people. During the 2009 push for marriage equality in New York, she lobbied reluctant Democrats to vote for it.

In an interview with the New York Times, Angelou explained why she believes all Americans should have the freedom to marry:

In a telephone interview, Ms. Angelou, who has a home in Harlem, said she felt compelled to speak out because she believes that legalizing same-sex marriage is a matter of social fairness -- a subject that has been a theme of her writing.

"I would ask every man and every woman who's had the blessing of having children, 'Would you deny your son or your daughter the ecstasy of finding someone to love?' " she said.

Ms. Angelou said she believed that society made gay relationships hard enough without the added burden of making marriage illegal.

"To love someone takes a lot of courage," she said. "So how much more is one challenged when the love is of the same sex and the laws say, 'I forbid you from loving this person'?"

The Empire State would go on to pass marriage equality two years later, in 2011.

Tributes to Angelou are pouring in from around the world, But fittingly, one of the most poignant tributes to Angelou's life and legacy may be words she wrote herself, in a tweet she posted five days ago. It turned out to be her last.

Videos of Maya Angelou reading some of her poems are after the jump.

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