Maya Angelou and Amanda Smith
by Amanda Smith
Poet Maya Angelou passed away on the morning of May 28, 2014 at the age of 86 at her Winston-Salem, NC home after cancelling an appearance at the Major League Baseball Beacon Awards Luncheon, citing an unspecified illness.
Born in St. Louis in 1928, Angelou moved to San Francisco as a teen to study dance and drama. She moved to Ghana in the 1960s where she met Malcolm X, moving back to the United States in 1964 to help him build the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which he founded in 1964. After Malcolm X's assassination, she served as Northern Coordinator for Dr. Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1970, Angelou wrote her most popular novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which received international acclaim and was the beginning of a multipart autobiography that continued through the decades. In 1993, at President Bill Clinton's first inauguration, she read "On the Pulse of the Morning" - her confident recital made publishing history by making her 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 honored her in return with a National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. In 2013, she received an honorary National Book Award.
Angelou appeared on several TV programs, including the 1977 miniseries "Roots," and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for her appearance in the play "Look Away." She won three Grammys for her spoken-word albums and in 2013 received an honorary National Book Award for her contributions to the literary community.
I remember meeting Ms. Angelou a few years ago at Andrew Young's birthday party in Atlanta, an event I was covering for The Informer. She was in a wheelchair by then and I bent down to speak to her. She immediately told me 'Stand up, young lady - don't bend over for anyone!" Of course, I immediately straightened up and said, 'yes ma'am!' Formidable yet spiritual, Ms. Angelou made a lasting impression on me as a force to be reckoned with and I walked away in awe - what an honor and privilege it was to meet this great lady!
The enduring quality of Angelou's work in everything that she touched has impacted generations and will imminently affect many more. We have certainly lost a great individual.
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