Poet, author Maya Angelou dead at 86

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Poet, historian and civil rights advocate Dr. Maya Angelou has passed away at the age of 86.

According to TWCNEWS.com, the writer of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" was found unresponsive inside her Winston-Salem, NC home.

Dr. Angelou had already canceled plans to attend the 2014 MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon, where she was to be honored on May 30 in Houston, Texas, due to "health reasons."

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Angelou was also an actress and screen writer. "Her script for the film Georgia was the first ever by an African American woman" and it was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, according to TWCNEWS.com.

According to her biography on her website, Angelou was born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She was raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas.

According to her website, "As a teenager, Dr. Angelou's love for the arts won her a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco's Labor School. At 14, she dropped out to become San Francisco's first African-American female cable car conductor. She later finished high school, giving birth to her son, Guy, a few weeks after graduation. As a young single mother, she supported her son by working as a waitress and cook, however her passion for music, dance, performance, and poetry would soon take center stage."

Angelou has received an honorary degree at a number of colleges and universities, including one at Howard University in 1985.

READ FULL BIO: Maya Angelou (http://mayaangelou.com/bio/)

George Faison and Ambassador Andrew Young shared their memories of Angelou with WUSA9 on Wednesday afternoon.

Angelou referred to Faison as a member of her family. He said, "Maya was warm, wonderful, a phenomenal woman and 40 years ago when I first met her, she came to my house and we spent an entire day getting acquainted and that friendship has lasted all these 40 years."

He continued, "Maya is the uncaged bird now. She flew the coop in a sense but she has left us with a legacy that is absolutely incredible. We have words that will go on for generations to live by. We will remember her face, her smile and also that voice. That voice that could calm. That voice that made our very being important and everybody was important to her. Tall, short, young, old, fat, skinny, pretty, plain, gay or straight, she was a champion of people. She had friends like Jimmy Baldwin, Malcolm X, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and she gave us that inspiration. We could sit around a table and eat that suffocated chicken that she would make and all those wonderful recipes that she would serve us with. and we would rejoice. Now that we don't have those shoulders to stand on anymore, I guess it's now time for us to stand on our own two feet.

"I don't think she would be very happy with what she sees, what the kids are doing to kids, what is happening in the news and so forth, but she was there always forgiving. 'They'll get better or they'll do better. Mama don't care how her children act. Mama just cares that they are her children.' And she will love them forever."

Maya Angelou was also dancer, which is something she had in common with Faison. He talked about that relationship and the project "Respect." He told us:

"Maya was one of those dancers growing up in San Francisco with Alvin [Ailey] and they said they would take the dance floor with a sequin and a feather. Alvin would oil his body up and there they would go on to the dance floor and make that kind of history making sure that our images were always there.

"Maya has been a champion of the institution that I started, the Faison Firehouse Theater located in Harlem, 124th Street. She was our champion, and we visited her with the Respect project, which is a teen empowerment program I started. She would talk to the children about being at best, not forgetting her and remembering her story.Tthat was the last project. And we had planned her appearances at the firehouse and now we're going to be planning a great retrospective of the things that she said, the books and all the wonderful things she gave us."

WUSA9 interviewed Young after Faison. He said, "I could hear George. I hope he can hear me because the first thing that I thought of when I heard that Maya passed away this morning, 'I'm going to sit at the welcome table.' I'm going to sit at the welcome table one of these days and in her life, in the last few years, she always started her speeches with a song. whether it looked like the sun wouldn't shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the sky and she was always looking for that rainbow.

He continued, "She was -- well, I'm no dancer but I think it was her 50th birthday. She pulled me up, a clumsy old preacher and made a dancer out of me. And she was just one of those indomitable spirits that took over any room she was in and even in the worst times, she would try and find a way to say 'let's thank God for this trouble. It just means we were heading in the wrong direction and after this, God is going to set us right.'

"And we have children at the Y teen program that we named for her, as young as 5 years old, that can recite Phenomenal Women, and Still I Rise and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and I think that legacy of her spirit. It's sort of like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela: their bodies are here but their spirits are with us all the time. And her spirit will never leave us. She will always be -- she'll always put a song in your heart in the most difficult times," shared Young.

Young says her passing is not difficult for those who were close to Angelou. "I think because we knew her, it's not a difficult time. It was difficult for me to see her having to breathe through oxygen and remembered how she danced all night and she could speak for hours at a time. I mean, she lit up every room she ever walked into. When she laughed, I don't care how sad you were, you had to laugh with her. She was an overwhelming presence which will not leave."

We expect to see many statements Wednesday regarding Angelou's passing. On Wednesday morning, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network (NAN) released the following statement:

"Maya Angelou was the quintessential renaissance woman of the 20th century art and human rights movements. Not only was she a literary icon, she was one of the few that turned her words into action. Although she participated in civil rights rallies, she challenged leaders of the civil rights movement to embrace the struggles of others and a broader view of freedom fighting. She challenged misogyny in the movement and was our poet, conscience, teacher and corrector. She was one of the few people whose presence you felt in the room even if she didn't say a word. Her spirit was incomparable."

Angelou attended former D.C. mayor and current council member Marion Barry's wedding to Cora Masters Barry in 1994. On Wednesday, Barry tweeted about Angelou: "My love and honor to Maya Angelou. I too know why the caged bird sings. And I will always sing songs of freedom with you."

Barry also later retweeted C-Span video of Angelou speaking at the Million Man March in D.C. in 1995. See the video here: http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4349357/million-man-march-maya-angelou.

President Barack Obama released the following statement on Angelou:

When her friend Nelson Mandela passed away last year, Maya Angelou wrote that "No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again, and bring the dawn."

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. 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.

Like so many others, Michelle and I will always cherish the time we were privileged to spend with Maya. With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God's children; that we all have something to offer. And while Maya's day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, "flung up to heaven" – and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.

Oprah Winfrey shared words on her mentor, mother, sister and friend Angelou:

"I've been blessed to have Maya Angelou as my mentor, mother/sister, and friend since my 20s. She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life. The world knows her as a poet but at the heart of her, she was a teacher. 'When you learn, teach. When you get, give' is one of my best lessons from her. She won three Grammys, spoke six languages and was the second poet in history to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. But what stands out to me most about Maya Angelou is not what she has done or written or spoken, it's how she lived her life. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace. I loved her and I know she loved me. I will profoundly miss her. She will always be the rainbow in my clouds."

D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander also shared a few words about Angelou. In a written statement, she said,

"Our world has suffered a great loss. The life and legacy of Maya Angelou touched the lives of so many people. Her poetic words empowered generations of women and her legacy will continue to live on. I have always been inspired by Maya Angelou's mission to uplift those who were downtrodden and forgotten by society by telling her story through her highly-acclaimed books. She was a woman of virtue and a positive example to us all.

Her passion for education is exemplified through the Maya Angelou Public Charter Schools in Ward 7. The middle and high schools have prepared those students – who are from lower income households and did not succeed in a traditional school environment – for a bright future in college and their careers. Through the mission of these schools, the impact of Maya Angelou's activism will be prevalent for years to come.

As an artist, an actress, a novelist and a dancer, Maya Angelou showed us that we can excel in many things as long as we put our minds to it. She was an example of overcoming adversity through the arts and her perseverance is why she was respected and emulated by so many. She was truly a Phenomenal Woman."

District of Columbia Councilmember Anita Bonds (At-Large) gave the following statement:

"A remarkable artist and humanitarian is now eternally uncaged and full of song. Her love and her spirit will be sorely missed in the life of DC that she loved to visit, but her voice will remain through her words."

U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan released the following statement:

"Maya Angelou was not just a phenomenal writer and artist – she was a teacher and mentor whose words will live on for generations. She once wrote, 'When you learn, teach, when you get, give.' Dr. Angelou certainly lived by that wisdom throughout her amazing life, and the world is a better place because of her."

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley issued the following statement:

"Maya Angelou's poem, "When Great Trees Fall," ends this way: "And when great souls die, / after a period peace blooms, / slowly and always / irregularly. Spaces fill / with a kind of / soothing electric vibration. / Our senses, restored, never / to be the same, whisper to us. / They existed. They existed. / We can be. Be and be / better. For they existed."

"The passing of Dr. Angelou is the death of a truly Great Soul. To appropriately honor her passing requires our gratitude for the divine poetry and prose she delivered into our world, and our simple striving, in the echoes of her electric whisper, to be better, kinder, and more loving."

Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown said in a statement:

"Today, we grieve the loss of Dr. Maya Angelou, whose light brought hope to each person who heard her powerful message of perseverance.

"As a celebrated writer, Dr. Angelou's words inspired those from every walk of life. But how she lived her life outside of that success was proof that we are more than a sum of our accomplishments or job titles. Over the course of her life, through many challenges, her message remained the same: that each of us is responsible for making the world a better, more just place to call home. We hope and pray that her message will not soon be forgotten."

Michael M. Kaiser, President of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, sent WUSA9 a statement. It reads: "As the nation mourns the loss of Maya Angelou, we are comforted to know that her exuberant spirit will continue to serve as an inspiration to so many people. Her gift to America is her example, shared so eloquently in her poetry and prose and filled with irrepressible hope, idealism and determination. She is an American artist and, even more, an American hero."

Lavern Chatman, Democratic candidate for Virginia's 8th Congressional District, issued the following statement: "Maya Angelou was a mother to all nations and a gift to the world. Through her writings and activism, she empowered millions - young and old - serving as a voice for social change. My thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Angelou's family and friends."

Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, also shared a written statement::

"The ATU family joins a nation in mourning the loss of renowned poet Dr. Maya Angelou. Her achievements as a novelist, educator, producer, actress and civil rights activist enriched and advanced America's cultural life.

"What many may not know about the life of this Renaissance woman is that Dr. Angelou was San Francisco's first African American streetcar conductor. While no one would even give her an application, she waited patiently and with resolve for two weeks until she got the job – shattering the glass ceiling for women in transit.

"Dr. Angelou was on the front lines during the Civil Rights movement helping Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. organize the Poor People's March in Memphis, TN and as a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Council.

"As a champion for the disenfranchised and a drum major for justice, we can honor her extraordinary life by continuing to be driven by her words of wisdom: 'We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.'"

MAYA ANGELOU'S FACEBOOK PAGE: http://www.facebook.com/MayaAngelou

OPRAH WINFREY INTERVIEW WITH DR. ANGELOU IN 2013: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Maya-Angelou-Interviewed-by-Oprah-in-2013

13 of Maya Angelou's best quotes: http://on.wusa9.com/1k0Kksy


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