Maya Angelou, Beloved Writer and Activist, Dies at 86
Angelou, a St. Louis native who rose to prominence as a writer with her memoir "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" in 1969, was found by her caretaker at her Winston-Salem home before 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, the city's mayor told Fox News. She also had a home in Harlem.
"She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace," Angelou's family said in the statement. "The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love."
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Health problems had prompted the celebrated poet to cancel a Friday appearance at the Major League Baseball Beacon Awards Luncheon, according to the Associated Press.
Angelou was best known for her poetry and nonfiction work, but took up many different lines of work throughout her life, including a run in the opera "Porgy and Bess" and dancing with pioneering modern dancer Alvin Ailey.
She also worked closely with civil rights activists Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, according to her biography.
Angelou also read her original work "On the Pulse of Morning," at President Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993. In 2010, Angelou donated her archives to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem.
At the dedication, Angelou recalled how being taken to a library at a black school filled with 300 tattered books helped her to heal after being abused.
"Each time I went to the library, I felt safe," she said then. "No bad thing can happen to you in the library. You can't be raped or mugged in the library. You can't be talked down to, belittled or humiliated in a library.
"When it looked like the sun wasn't gonna shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds," Angelou said in the poetic and inspirational language she was well known for. "A library is a rainbow in the cloud."
The Schomburg was slated to receive 300 boxes of Angelou's archives, including a draft of Angelou's acclaimed autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," in which she recounts her abuse and subsequent six-year silence, an edited draft of "On the Pulse of Morning," and personal effects, including an inspirational poem written for Angelou by media mogul Oprah Winfrey, entitled "Continue."
The institution is still in the process of organizing the collection.
Angelou had several homes, including one in the Mount Morris Park historic district near Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem.
Her neighbor for the last decade, Dr. Gebregziabher Syoun, described Angelou as a kind woman who invited his family over sometimes and didn't mind signing books for his grandchildren.
"To me she was a dignified woman. Very quiet but very impressive," said Syoun, a dentist. "She knew the power of language. I see her as a pioneer and a trailblazer."
Because Angelou was getting older, Syoun said his family visited her home more than she did his. Angelou would entertain them on the first floor of her colorful and beautifully decorated home, which featured an elevator to allow her full use of the house, Syoun said.
He said Angelou was very active at the home, which she renovated, spending time there at least every three months and arriving for special events. You could tell Angelou was at the home when her chauffeur was outside.
"She changed the whole block," said Syoun. "Because of her being here it attracted more professional people to the area."
Friends and family couldn't believe he lived next to the literary legend.
"Everyone would say: 'You are living next door to her!'"
Just recently, Syoun said his granddaughter had written Angelou a letter asking to interview her for a school project. He was not surprised when she obliged.
"The enthusiasm she had with the grandchildren was amazing," Syoun said.
Rep. Charles Rangel sent a tweet saying: "Inspiring words & wisdom of #Harlem's very own #MayaAngelou will live in our hearts & memories forever."
She was active on social media, posting her final tweet on May 23.
"Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God," she wrote.