Renowned Poet, Novelist, and Actress Maya Angelou Dies at Age 86

Published 05/29 2014 02:21PM

Updated 05/29 2014 02:51PM

Renowned poet, novelist, and actress Maya Angelou died Wednesday, May 28th at age 86 at her North Carolina home.

"The hells we have lived through and live through still have sharpened our senses and toughened our will."

Celebrated poet and activists Maya Angelou may have been speaking about herself on that day in 1995.

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson in Saint Louis, Missouri, April 4th 1928, the "hells" she lived through began at the age of 7 when she was raped by her mother's boyfriend.  After she spoke out against him, he was beaten to death by a mob.  Young Marguerite blamed herself.

"I was 7 and a 1/2 and my 7 1/2 year old logic deduced that my voice had killed him, so I stopped speaking for almost 6 years."

"It was during those 6 years of silence that she discovered poetry and her love of art."

Her poetry was first physical.  Winning a dance and drama scholarship in San Francisco, then later touring Europe in 1954, in "Porgy and Bess".

Her growing love for the written word took her to Egypt and Ghana where she became a newspaper editor.  In Ghana, she met Malcolm X and returned to the US in 1964 to join his fight in the Civil Rights Movement.

After Malcolm X's assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King asked her to join him.  He was killed on her birthday in 1968.  The following year, her first memoir was published, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings", more best sellers would follow.

Her books detailed personal struggles, like having a baby as an unwed teenager, that son later became novelist Guy Johnson.

Blazing trails on the big and small screens, she directed documentaries.  Her screenplay for 1972's "Georgia Georgia" was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Maya Angelou was nominated for a Tony Award.  She won 3 Grammies and in 2011, President Obama presented her with the "Presidential Medal of Freedom".

She called herself "Maya" which was her brother's nickname for her.  "Angelou" came from her first husband's name, Tosh Angelos.

She had created her own name just as she'd created poetry from pieces of herself.

"I am the hope and the dream of the slave and so, naturally, there I go rising."

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