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Maya Angelou passes away: Her life in PHOTOS

May 29, 2014 16:14 IST

Maya Angelou passes away: Her life in PHOTOS

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Maya Angelou, the celebrated poet, writer and activist who rose from a childhood of poverty in Arkansas to become an American literary icon, died on Wednesday morning at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at the age of 86. The author of the famous I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings leaves behind a towering legacy and will be remembered above all as the people’s poet.

Rediff.com celebrates her life in images.

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Photographs: Larry Downing\Reuters

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Born on April 4, 1928, Maya Angelou was a childhood victim of rape and sexual abuse. In school, she was then introduced to the world of literature in school and fell in love with the written word. It was from here that her journey began and she became one of the most renowned authors and poets in America and the world around.

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Photographs: Official website of Maya Angelou

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After school, she managed to turn her life around in the 1950s. She studied modern dance and performed as part of a dance team with choreographer Alvin Ailey. She sang and danced in night clubs and released an album, and adopted the stage name Maya Angelou.

She then joined the Harlem Writers Guild and became involved in civil-rights activism and the anti-apartheid movement. She met many activists and also spent time in Ghana where she met Malcolm X. After much persuasion, she then wrote an autobiography, which ended up becoming the famous I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

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Photographs: Official website of Maya Angelou

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In 1993, she became only the second poet in the US to be invited to recite a poem at Bill Clinton’s inauguration. The first being Robert Frost, who read The Gift Outright for John F Kennedy in 1961. At the ceremony, she read On the Pulse of Morning, a poem written by her. 

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Photographs: Dimitrios Kambouris\Getty Images

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In 2005, she was invited by then US President George W Bush to read another poem, Amazing Peace, at the 2005 Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the White House. 

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Photographs: Jason Reed\Getty Images

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In turn, in 2011, she was honoured by US President Barack Obama and awarded the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honour.

A day after her demise, US President Barack Obama led the long list of tributes to the icon. He said, “She was one of the brightest lights of our time --a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman. Like so many others, Michelle and I will always cherish the time we were privileged to spend with Maya. With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer. And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, flung up to heaven -- and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.”

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Photographs: Chip Somodevilla\Getty Images

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She was a mentor to Oprah Winfrey, whom she befriended when Winfrey was still a local television reporter, and often appeared on her friend’s talk show program. She mastered several languages and published not just poetry but advice books, cookbooks and children's stories. She wrote music, plays and screenplays, received an Emmy nomination for her acting in Roots, and never lost her passion for dance, the art she considered closest to poetry.

 


Photographs: John Gress\Reuters

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