Bill Day honors renowned poet, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, who died on Wednesday in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86.
Angelou rose to fame with her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, becoming one of the first African-American women to pen a national best seller. The 1970 autobiography detailed the racism and sexual abuse Angelou suffered growing up in the Jim Crow South.
Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4, 1928, Angelou was the daughter of Bailey Johnson, a civilian dietician working with the Navy, and Vivian Baxter Wilburn, a card dealer, real estate broker and marine radio operator.
Angelou married and became pregnant at age 16 with her only child, Clyde “Guy” Johnson.
After moving to New York City in 1959, Angelou joined the Harlem Writers Guild, becoming familiar with civil rights groups such as of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Angelou later moved to California in 1966, remaining politically active, as well as serving as a lecturer at the University of California at Los Angeles.
After the publication of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Angelou then produced her first volume of poetry in 1971 titled “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ’fore I Diiie.” She was also an accomplished screenwriter, director and actor — portraying Kunta Kinte’s grandmother in the landmark 1977 TV series “Roots.”
Angelou, who never went to college, was awarded a lifetime membership to the faculty at Wake Forest University In 1981. Not only did she receive three Grammy Awards for spoken-word poetry and prose, she was also the second poet, after Robert Frost, to read an original poem at a presidential inauguration, appearing for then-President-elect Bill Clinton in 1993.
In her advanced years, Angelou continued to write, producing cookbooks and children’s books.