The acclaimed writer Maya Angelou died at age 86, her family confirmed Wednesday. She was the author of the groundbreaking memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and six other autobiographical works as well as numerous poems and essays. She also played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, wrote screenplays and was nominated for a Tony for her performance on Broadway in “Look Away." Her words will surely continue to inspire generations to come, but not to be missed is how she beautifully delivered them – she won three Grammys for her spoken-word recordings – from her recitation of “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 Inauguration to her appearances on “Sesame Street.”
Angelou is only the second poet in history to read one of her original works at a presidential inauguration. She recited “On the Pulse of Morning” at Clinton's 1993 swearing-in ceremony (the two shared an upbringing in rural Arkansas). She wrote the poem for the occasion, as it outlines the vision Clinton’s presidency (video courtesy of William J. Clinton Presidential Library).
Angelou’s 1969 autobiography was her breakthrough work, a critical and commercial success that examined her childhood and the adversity she faced in the Jim Crow South. In this clip, Angelou reads a portion from the award-winning memoir and discusses how she found her voice for it.
“Still I Rise,” the work inspiring the title of Angelou’s 1978 collection of poetry, is both a tale or personal triumph and a story of the African-American community's fight against racism.
When Arsenio Hall had Angelou on his late night show, she talked about living in a segregated America, meeting Martin Luther King Jr. and participating in the civil rights movement. She also had this pearl of wisdom to offer: “You have to be mad while you’re young. Later on it doesn’t look good on you.”
Angelou was also a frequent guest of Oprah Winfrey’s, in this clip appearing on OWN’s “Super Soul Sunday” last May. Listen to the advice Angelou treasures most, including this gem: “In order to get a friend, you have to be a friend.”
1. "I believe that each of us comes from the creator trailing wisps of glory."
- Interview with the Academy of Achievement (1990)
2. "I am a Woman
- Phenomenal Woman, poem (1978)
3. "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
- Interview for Beautifully Said Magazine (2012)
4. "You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them."
- Excerpted from Letter to My Daughter, a book of essays (2009)
5. "My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style."
- Angelou's Facebook (2011)
6. "The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind."
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)
7. "Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud."
- Letter to My Daughter, a book of essays (2009)
8. "I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back."
- Interview with Oprah for Angelou's 70th birthday (2000)
9. "We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated."
- The Art of Fiction No. 119, the Paris Review
10. "You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot - it's all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive."
- Interview from the April 2011 edition of O, the Oprah Magazine (2011)
11. "One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest."
- Interview in USA TODAY (March 5, 1988)
12. "Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope."
- Angelou's Facebook (Jan. 11, 2013)
13. "Nothing can dim the light which shines from within."