“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.”
Born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, multi-talented barely seems to cover the depth and breadth of Maya Angelou’s accomplishments. She was an author, actress, screenwriter, dancer and poet. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, Angelou had a difficult childhood. Her parents split up when she was very young, and she and her older brother, Bailey, were sent to live with their father’s mother, Anne Henderson, in Stamps, Arkansas. As an African American, Angelou experienced firsthand racial prejudices and discrimination in Arkansas.
In the mid-1950s, Angelou’s career as a performer began to take off. She landed a role in a touring production of Porgy and Bess, later appearing in the off-Broadway production Calypso Heat Wave (1957) and releasing her first album, Miss Calypso (1957).
In 1961, Angelou appeared in an off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks with James Earl Jones, Lou Gossett Jr. and Cicely Tyson. While the play earned strong reviews, Angelou moved on to other pursuits, spending much of the 1960s abroad; she first lived in Egypt and then in Ghana, working as an editor and a freelance writer. Angelou also held a position at the University of Ghana for a time.
After returning to the United States, Angelou was urged by friend and fellow writer James Baldwin to write about her life experiences. Her efforts resulted in the enormously successful 1969 memoir about her childhood and young adult years, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. The poignant work also made Angelou an international star. Since publishing Caged Bird, Angelou continued to break new ground—not just artistically, but educationally and socially.
One of Angelou’s most famous works is the poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she wrote especially for and recited at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural ceremony in January 1993. One of Angelou’s most famous works is the poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she wrote especially for and recited at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural ceremony in January 1993. Angelou’s career has seen numerous accolades, including the Chicago International Film Festival’s 1998 Audience Choice Award and a nod from the Acapulco Black Film Festival in 1999 for Down in the Delta; and two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (nonfiction) category, for her 2005 cookbook and 2008’s Letter to My Daughter.
After experiencing health issues for a number of years, Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014, at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The news of her passing spread quickly with many people taking to social media to mourn and remember Angelou. Singer Mary J. Blige and politician Cory Booker were among those who tweeted their favorite quotes by her in tribute. President Barack Obama also issued a statement about Angelou, calling her “a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.” Angelou “had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer,” he wrote.