Famed poet and author Maya Angelou died this morning in
North Carolina. She was 86.
"She'd been very frail and had heart problems, but she
was going strong, finishing a new book," Angelou's agent Helen Brann told
ABC News. "I spoke to her yesterday. She was fine, as she always was. Her
spirit was indomitable."
Angelou recently canceled an appearance at the 2014 MLB
Beacon Awards Luncheon, where she will be honored. Major League Baseball cited
"health reasons" Friday in saying the 86-year-old won't make it to
the May 30 event in Houston before the annual Civil Rights Game, the Associated
Press reported last Friday.
"Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension
was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a
teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality,
tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had
with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love,"
Angelou's son Guy Johnson said in a statement.
Born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Angelou worked a
number of jobs before publishing her first book, "I Know Why the Caged
Bird Sings," which focused on her own life, in 1969.
Nominated for a National Book Award, the tome skyrocketed
Angelou to national fame -- especially given the controversial nature of
several sections, which dealt with child molestation, racism, and sexuality.
"I thought that it was a mild book. There's no
profanity," Angelou told AP. "It speaks about surviving, and it
really doesn't make ogres of many people. I was shocked to find there were
people who really wanted it banned, and I still believe people who are against
the book have never read the book."
After the success of her first book, Angelous wrote the
screenplay and score for the 1972 film, "Georgia, Georgia," becoming
the first African-American woman to author a screenplay that was filmed. It was
nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
She would go on to write more than 30 published works,
including five more memoirs and many books of poetry.
Beloved by stars, Angelou was a mentor to Oprah Winfrey and
favorite of many presidents. She spoke at the inauguration of President Bill
Clinton and was awarded the Presidential Medal of the Arts in 2000. In 2011,
President Barack Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Last November, ABC News spoke with Angelou, who lived in in
Winston-Salem because of her longtime teaching job at Wake Forest University.
"I'm learning that I have patience and that patience is
a great gift," she said. "I know that people only do what they know
to do. Not what they say they know, not what they think they should know. ...
People do only what they know how to do, so I have patience. I pray that people
will have patience with themselves and learn more."
Leak, Jeffrey B. Visible man: The Life of Henry Dumas. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014.
He was brilliant. He was troubled. He was dead at the age of 34. Like many males of his class and generation, he was a death-bound-subject, a player in the game regulated by the racial contract of the United States of America. "While he certainly should be understood in the context of the cultural and political movements of the 1960's --Black Arts, Black Power, and Civil Rights---," according to the in-house promotional statement from the University of Georgia Press," his writing, and ultimately his life, were filled with ambiguities and contradictions" (University of Georgia Press Spring/Summer 2014 catalogue, 6). The 1960's, a transformative decade in our history, was also pregnant with other movements not begat by black Americans, and that fact is unavoidable in constructing a biography of Henry Dumas (1934-1968).
In "Confessions of a Burned-Out Biographer" (The Seductions of Biography. Ed. Mary Rhiel and David Suchoff. New York: Routledge, 1996), Phyllis Rose reminds us that "the school of literary biography, whether or not the subject is a literary figure, tends to see all facts as artifacts and to see context and argument as co-partners of fact" (131). The public, Rose claims, prefers "objective biography" to the artistry of literary biography. Jeffrey B. Leak seems to have embraced the alleged preferences of the public sphere in writing Visible Man: The Life of Henry Dumas.