Poet, autobiographer, activist and essayist Maya Angelou died earlier today at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86. Best known for her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and for reading her poem, “On the Pulse of the Morning,” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, Angelou wrote more than 30 published books. She was the first African-American woman to write the screenplay and score for a movie that was filmed (Georgia, Georgia in 1972). She also won Tony, Emmy and Grammy Awards (for best spoken album).
- NPR’s appreciation
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is about Angelou’s scarred childhood in a segregated St. Louis, where she was born in 1928, later moving to Stamps, Ark. She left Arkansas as a singer and dancer, eventually performing with Alvin Ailey and recording the album, Calypso Lady.
Her 1969 memoir was nominated for a National Book Award, and in 2011, Time magazine declared Caged Bird one of the 100 most influential books written in English. But it was controversial at the time of its publication for its treatment of Jim Crow racism, sexuality and child molesting. In fact, it still is: Angelou remains third on the American Library Association’s list of most banned authors.
In 1992, KERA taped Angelou at her home reading excerpts from her poem, “Still I Rise,” for the documentary, Kindred Spirits: Contemporary African-American Artists.