Skip to main content

Author and Poet Maya Angelou Dies

Celebrated author, poet and activist Maya Angelou died on Wednesday at her Winston-Salem, N.C. home. She was 86.

Angelou’s cause of death was not immediately known. Though, she had recently suffered from health issues.

The Missouri-born essayist and prolific memoirist, whose 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings explored rape and racism in the South, was also a singer, dancer and actor as well as a composer and producer.

She won critical acclaim both for her works and performances, appearing in the 1977 television mini-series Roots.

"When I try to describe myself to God I say, 'Lord, remember me? Black? Female? Six-foot tall? The writer?' And I almost always get God's attention," Angelou told NPR's Lynn Neary in 2008.

Angelou not only gave voice to many people's hopes, dreams, and pain, she helped give names to relatives of some high-profile Washingtonians.

"Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time – a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman," said President Obama. "Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things – an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer.  But above all, she was a storyteller – and her greatest stories were true.  A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking – but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves.  In fact, she inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya."

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Maya Angelou, a true national treasure whom I have admired greatly for many, many years," said Attorney General Jeffrey Holder. Holder said Angelou had celebrated his daughter and namesake, Maya's, 21st birthday just a day before the elder Maya died.

“Dr. Angelou was much more than a literary genius, a chronicler of Jim Crow, and a witness to history," he said. "Through her extraordinary work, she captured the tenacity of the human spirit and spoke of harsh realities in the most evocative, moving, and lyrical of ways. Over the course of a career spanning some of the most tumultuous decades of the last century, she taught us how to rise above ‘a past that’s rooted in pain.’ She gave voice to a people too often shut out of America’s public discourse.  She displayed remarkable courage in the face of tremendous adversity.  And she inspired generations to overcome life’s greatest challenges – through her extensive writings, her performances, her advocacy, her educational work, and her principled activism."