US author, poet Maya Angelou dies at 86
Maya Angelou, the American poet and author who rose from poverty, segregation and the harshest of childhoods to become a force on stage, screen and the printed page, has died. She was 86.
Angelou died yesterday morning at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, her son, Guy B Johnson, said in a statement. The 86-year-old had been a professor of American studies at nearby Wake Forest University since 1982.
"She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace," Mr Johnson said.
Tall and regal, with a deep, majestic voice, Angelou defied all probability and category, becoming one of the first black women to enjoy mainstream success as an author and thriving in virtually every artistic medium. The young single mother who performed at strip clubs to earn a living later wrote and recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history. The childhood victim of rape wrote a million-selling memoir, befriended Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, and performed on stages around the world.
An actress, singer and dancer in the 1950s and 1960s, she broke through as an author in 1969 with 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings', a best-seller that became standard (and occasionally censored) reading, and was the first of a multipart autobiography that continued through the decades. In 1993, she was a sensation reading her cautiously hopeful 'On the Pulse of the Morning' at former President Bill Clinton's first inauguration.
For former President George W Bush, she read another poem, 'Amazing Peace', at the 2005 Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the White House.
She remained close enough to the Clintons that in 2008 she supported Hillary Rodham Clinton's candidacy over the ultimately successful run of the country's first black president, Barack Obama.
Angelou wrote when Mandela died: "No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again, and bring the dawn." Mr Obama used those words to remember Angelou as "one of the brightest lights of our time – a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman".
Angelou was a mentor to Oprah Winfrey, whom she befriended when Winfrey was still a local television reporter.
She mastered several languages and published not just poetry, but advice books, cookbooks and children's stories. She wrote music, plays and screenplays, acted and directed, and never lost her passion for dance.