Reading & Literacy

Maya Angelou, Renowned Poet, Dies at 86

By Liana Loewus — May 28, 2014 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Maya Angelou, eminent poet and memoirist, died this morning at age 86.

Known for her melodic prose and confrontation of difficult issues—racism, sexism, rape—Angelou gained fame with her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. In the book, Angelou, born as Marguerite Johnson, describes a troubled childhood in poor, segregated Arkansas, during which she stopped speaking for a time. The book is widely read in U.S. schools, but also among the most frequently challenged works of the 21st century, according to the American Library Association.

Over the years, Angelou worked as a streetcar conductor, dancer, singer, actress, activist, and professor. She met and befriended other influential African-Americans including James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Oprah Winfrey.

In 1993, Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. She earned dozens of honorary doctorates and, in 2011, was presented with the White House Medal of Freedom for her dedication to civil rights. When Nelson Mandela died in December 2013, Angelou wrote a tribute poem for him, which the U.S. State Department distributed in 15 languages. “No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again and bring the dawn,” she wrote.

I had the good fortune of hearing Ms. Angelou speak just over a year ago to several thousand educators at a conference in Chicago. At the time she was quite frail and in a wheelchair, but her voice filled the room. “You are rainbows in the clouds,” she told the teachers, using a biblical reference she employed in many speeches. “It delights my heart to encourage you to continue.” She urged teachers to go forward with “some sass ... some flair, some passion, some compassion, some humor.”

One of my personal favorites of Angelou’s poems—and one that sums up how she herself exuded sass, flair, and passion—is Phenomenal Woman, which starts:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Read the full poem here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on Literacy in Education
In this Spotlight, evaluate the possible gaps your current curriculum may have and gain insights from the front-lines of teaching.
Reading & Literacy Creator of 1619 Project Launching After-School Literacy Program
The 1619 Freedom School, led by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, will make its curriculum a free online resource in 2022.
4 min read
Collage of an American Flag.
Collage: Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty)
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Whitepaper
Supporting Students With Structured Literacy
Structured Literacy is instruction that’s informed by the science of reading. Read this white paper from Lexia® Learning: Structured Lite...
Content provided by Lexia Learning