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Poet Maya Angelou, Dead At 86

She was an actress, director, playwright, composer, singer and dancer who once worked as a madam in a brothel. She was the first female and first black street car conductor in San Francisco.

A major literary figure is gone with the death of poet and writer Maya Angelou:

Poet and essayist Maya Angelou died Wednesday at the age of 86, according to reports in her hometown of Winston-Salem.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines told WFMY News 2 that Angelou's caregiver found her dead in her home Wednesday morning.

Angelou is best known for her award-winning writing, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Angelou was a high school dropout who went on to become a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.

She was an American Study herself. "I have created myself," she told USA TODAY in 2007, "I have taught myself so much."

Aneglou defied simple labels. She was a walking list of careers and passions: in addition to her books, she was an actress, director, playwright, composer, singer and dancer. And if that wasn't enough, she once worked as a madam in a brothel and as the first female and first black street car conductor in San Francisco.

She was best known for the first of her six memoirs, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), still widely read in schools. She described being raped at 7 and becoming an unwed mother at 17. (Her son, Guy Johnson, a poet and novelist, is her only immediate survivor.)

Her formal education ended in high school. But she was awarded more than 30 honorary degrees from colleges. She insisted on being called "Dr. Angelou."

In November 2013, at the age of 85, Angelou stole the show at the National Book Awards in New York when she was presented an award for "Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community." She was introduced that night by her friend, author Toni Morrison, who said of Angelou, "Suffering energized and strengthened her, and her creative impulse struck like bolts of lightning."

From her wheelchair, Angelou dazzled the crowd by singing a verse of a spiritual: "When it looked like it wouldn't stop raining, God put a rainbow in the clouds."

She then told the ballroom full of writers, editors and publishers: "You are the rainbow in my clouds." To laughter and applause, she added, that "easy reading is damn hard writing." In reviewing her career, she said, "For over 40 years, I have tried to tell the truth as I understand it. ... I haven't tried to tell everything I know, but I've tried to tell the truth."


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