On Wednesday, May 28, 2014 the entire world came to a brief standstill to mark the passing of one of the greatest artistic figures of the last century, Maya Angelou. Angelou succumbed to a number of health conditions at her house in Winston-Salem, North Carolina at the age of 86, as reported by her literary agent. Angelou had been suffering from a range of medical ailments including a persistent heart condition. The cause of her death though, was not specifically cited.
The legendary poet, playwright, author and professor distinguished herself in her younger days as a prolific civil rights advocate, being one of the few people who could count historic figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X among her friends, in her quest for civil rights and equality across the world. Angelou’s unique approach to civil rights advocacy through literature and poetry empowered people around the world, and her efforts were recognized by President Obama in 2010, when she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Seven years prior to her receiving the highest civilian award, Angelou was present at Bill Clinton’s inauguration ceremony in 1993, where she recited her poem, ‘On the Pulse of the Morning’. The occasion was marked as the first the time there had been the mention of the word, ‘gay’ at a presidential inauguration.
Angelou’s style of poetry was particularly unapologetic, and the poet spared no attempt to detail the hardship that individuals, including herself, face on a regular basis with regard to class-ism, sexism and racism. Maya Angelou was born on April 4, in St. Louis and spent her formative years working first as a dancer, then a singer before eventually becoming the first female cable car conductor in San Francisco. Angelou was extremely well-read and was known to have been fluent in seven different languages. She has appeared numerous times on popular programs like Sesame Street and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Despite the vibrancy of her life and her own success, Angelou did not spare any opportunity to communicate the difficulties she faced as an African-American youth, growing up in Jim Crow South. Angelou was a victim of sexual assault when she was just seven years old, and became a single mother during her teenage years.
While Angelou did not finish college, she was well respected as a professor, and has received over 30 honorary degrees. In addition, she spent more than a decade at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, teaching American Studies. Over the course of her career, she received multiple accolades including a Pulitzer Prize nomination, a Tony nomination, the Lincoln Medal, the Normal Mailer Award, as well as a Grammy in 2002 for the Best Spoken Word Album.
Apart from her advocacy of civil rights, Angelou also strongly supported equality for the LGBT community, even conducting a 4000 strong rally for the LGBT people at Tampa, Florida in 1996. News of Angelou’s passing has spread quickly around the world with several celebrities and world leaders, expressing their heartfelt sorrow and respects.
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