UPDATED: Memoirist, actress, director, activist and poet Maya Angelou has died. She was 86 and lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The cause of death was not immediately determined but she had been in poor health. Angelou’s enormously influential memoir I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings detailed an African-American upbringing in the Jim Crow South — she was born in St. Louis, Missouri — scarred by violence. Ultimately her autobiography encompassed seven volumes, including The Heart of A Woman and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. She served the landmark TV series Roots as both adviser and actress, and her other film and TV credits included the 1979 television adaptation of Caged Bird as well as The Black Candle, which incorporated her poetry. In 1993 she recited her poem On The Pulse Of Morning at President Bill Clinton‘s first inauguration. Both had grown up in Arkansas. Angelou wrote for, and appeared with Richard Pryor and produced the 1982 telefilm Sister, Sister. Among her many accolades were the Presidential Medal Of Freedom in 2011, the National Medal Of Arts, in 2000 and three Grammy Awards for her albums of poetry and other works.
Close collaborator and longtime friend Quincy Jones remembered the late Maya Angelou today: “I am so deeply saddened about the loss of my dear friend, colleague and sister of 46 years, Maya Angelou. From collaborating on two songs on my soundtrack for ‘For Love of Ivy’ in 1968 to delivering her poem ‘Pulse of the Morning’ during the Clinton Inaugural in 1992, working with Maya always brought joy and love. As an author and poet, Maya Angelou’s ability to channel God’s voice and express the feelings deep within all of humanity will never be matched by another. She gave us words when we could find none, and helped us to see clearly when the light was dimmest. Maya would always teasingly say to me, ‘Darling, let’s have ‘lurnch”, and I will always be ready. I will miss her deeply, but I know her presence will always be with us.”
President Obama discussed Angelou’s passing today. “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.”
Said Vice President Joe Biden: “Dr. Maya Angelou wrote, ‘History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. However, if faced with courage, need not be lived again.’ Few people lived with more courage and taught us more about the lessons of our history than she did. Through her own life and through our country’s struggle for civil rights—through the sting of segregation, the denial of the ballot box and rights of women, through the violence of billy clubs and bullets—Dr. Angelou’s prophetic words and resonant voice taught us about the unyielding power of love, equality, and justice for all. She was not only a recorder of history, but she was the conscience of a movement that pushed the country forward.”
DGA President Paris Barclay said today: “Today we mourn the loss of a tremendous storyteller, but we rejoice in the knowledge that her stories and images will comfort and inspire us forever,” “Dr. Angelou first joined the DGA in 1975, becoming one of the first African American female members of the DGA. Never one to shy away from new experiences, she went on to make her feature directing debut at the age of 70. …On a personal note, one of my earliest professional directing jobs was helming an adaptation of one of her short stories; her provocative words and passionate voice continue to echo in my head. We are proud to count her among our ranks.”