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Poet and Author Maya Angelou Has Died

Writer who lived through and chronicled life in the Jim Crow South passed away at her North Carolina home at the age of 86

Common Dreams staff

President Barack Obama arrives to deliver the commencement address to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point's Class of 2014, Wednesday, May 28, 2014, in West Point, N.Y. (Photo: AP)

American poet and author Maya Angelou, who lived through and helped chronicle the civil rights movement in the U.S., has died at the age of 86 following a brief decline in health.

Born in Marguerite Annie Johnson in St Louis, Missouri in 1928, Angelou is perhaps best known for her series of autobiographical memoirs, including 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings' published in 1969 that tells her childhood story of living in the Jim Crow south.

“You have to really have grit if you are to grow up and survive in Arkansas,” Angelou once said of her experience growing up amid racism and repression.

Her death, according to the New York Times, was confirmed by her longtime literary agent, Helen Brann.

In its obituary of the poet, the Times describes how

Throughout her writing, Ms. Angelou explored the concepts of personal identity and resilience through the multifaceted lens of race, sex, family, community and the collective past. As a whole, her work offered a cleareyed examination of the ways in which the socially marginalizing forces of racism and sexism played out at the level of the individual.

“If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat,” Ms. Angelou wrote in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Hallmarks of Ms. Angelou’s prose style included a directness of voice that recalls African-American oral tradition and gives her work the quality of testimony. She was also intimately concerned with sensation, describing the world around her — be it Arkansas, San Francisco or the foreign cities in which she lived — with palpable feeling for its sights, sounds and smells.


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According to the Winston-Salem Journal, the local newspaper in Angelou's North Carolina hometown:

Angelou, who lived in Winston-Salem and was the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, was best known for her six autobiographical works and her poems, including “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she read at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. But she also wrote plays, screenplays and television scripts.

"Maya Angelou has been a towering figure -- at Wake Forest and in American culture. She had a profound influence in civil rights and racial reconciliation. We will miss profoundly her lyrical voice and always keen insights," said Wake Forest University President Nathan O. Hatch.

The university plans to hold a memorial on campus, though no details are available yet.

Her health had been declining recently. Angelou was unable to attend the 2014 MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon in Houston that was scheduled for Friday, where she was to be honored before the annual Civil Rights Game.

Angelou canceled an event last month in Fayetteville, Ark., because she was recovering from an "unexpected ailment" that sent her to the hospital.

And those mourning the loss were responding to the news on Twitter:


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