Who Was Maya Angelou?
Marguerite Annie Johnson Angelou (April 4, 1928 to May 28, 2014), known as Maya Angelou, was an American author, actress, screenwriter, dancer, poet and civil rights activist best known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. Angelou received several honors throughout her career, including two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (nonfiction) category, in 2005 and 2009. Maya Angelou’s Poetry
‘Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die’ (1971)
Angelou published several collections of poetry, but her most famous was 1971’s collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
‘On the Pulse of Morning’
One of her most famous works, Angelou wrote this poem especially for and recited at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural ceremony in January 1993. The occasion marked the first inaugural recitation since 1961, when Robert Frost delivered his poem “The Gift Outright” at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Angelou went on to win a Grammy Award (best spoken word album) for the audio version of the poem.
Maya Angelou’s Books
‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ (1969)
Friend and fellow writer James Baldwin urged Angelou to write about her life experiences, resulting in the enormously successful 1969 memoir about her childhood and young adult years, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The poignant story made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. The book, which made Angelou an international star, continues to be regarded as her most popular autobiographical work. In 1995, Angelou was lauded for remaining on The New York Times’ paperback nonfiction best-seller list for two years—the longest-running record in the chart’s history.
‘All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes’ (1986)
A lyrical exploration about of what it means to be an African American in Africa, this autobiographical book covers the years Angelou spent living in Ghana.
‘Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now’ (1994)
This inspirational essay collection features Angelou’s insights about spirituality and living well.
‘A Song Flung Up to Heaven’ (2002)
Another autobiographical work, A Song Flung Up to Heaven explores Angelou’s return from Africa to the U.S. and her ensuing struggle to cope with the devastating assassinations of two human rights leaders with whom she worked, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The book ends when, at the encouragement of her friend James Baldwin, Angelou began work on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
‘Letter to My Daughter’ (2008)
Dedicated to the daughter Angelou never had, this book of essays features Angelou’s advice for young women about living a life of meaning.
Interested in health, Angelou’s published cookbooks include Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories With Recipes (2005) and Great Food, All Day Long (2010).
After experiencing health issues for a number of years, Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014, at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The news of her passing spread quickly with many people taking to social media to mourn and remember Angelou. Singer Mary J. Blige and politician Cory Booker were among those who tweeted their favorite quotes by her in tribute. President Barack Obama also issued a statement about Angelou, calling her “a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.” Angelou “had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer,” he wrote.