Dr. Maya Angelou, one of the nation’s most beloved and recognized literary figures, has died at the age of 86. She first gained recognition for her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made her the first African-American woman to write a best seller. She was also the first female African-American poet laureate in United States history. Throughout her career, Angelou inspired many with her wisdom—and she continued to do so until the end of her life.
The last message she shared on Twitter was on May 23:
In a 1982 profile, People described her childhood and eventual success:
“She was born black and poor, trouble enough in the rural South of the 1920s. By age 3, she was the child of a broken home, shunted off to her paternal grandmother’s care in tiny Stamps, Ark. Before her 8th birthday, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend and forced to endure the further trauma of his trial; when her assailant was murdered after his release, she blamed herself and spoke hardly at all until she was nearly 13. At 17, she graduated from high school unwed and eight months pregnant. A year later, to support herself and her son, Guy, she became the madam of a two-woman whorehouse in San Diego, and then for a short time a prostitute herself.”
“Yet today,” the profile continued, “this same Maya Angelou is a protean woman, fluent in seven languages and the recipient of 13 honorary degrees. She was nominated for a National Book Award for her nonfiction and a Tony award for her acting.”
“Maya is one of those totally steadfast people with a spine made of iron,” her longtime friend, Jessica Mitford (author of The American Way of Death) told People at the time. “She’s a force of nature with so many talents in every direction that the combination comes like an earthquake.”
Her death has left many celebrities and news sites reflecting and mourning her passing. See their messages of condolences below. Rest in peace, Dr. Maya Angelou.