By Amy Elliot
Maya Angelou, celebrated poet, novelist, activist, performer and friend of presidents, died May 28 at the age of 86.
She is most usually renowned for her part in the Civil Rights movement, during which she worked with both Martin Luther King Jr. (with whom she shares the natal Jupiter-Saturn-Neptune grand trine) and Malcolm X, and for her contribution to literature, most famously in the 1969 autobiographical novel dealing with her early life, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
That pioneering literary work explored the various challenges and traumas she faced growing up in the segregated South; following its success, she went on to write six more memoirs. All her autobiographies were unique in their use of fiction as critique and enlargement of the genre; they have also been hailed as crucial in allowing black female authors to bring their stories, both fictional and personal, into the public eye.
Her childhood was marred by pain. At eight years old she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend; he was murdered following his conviction for the crime, and for the next five years she was virtually mute, believing that her voice had the power to kill. Though fortunately she was eventually coaxed out of this guilt reaction, she coped with this period in a way that possibly proved to be foundational: she developed a love of literature, read voraciously, and became an acute observer of the world around her.
Angelou published many volumes of poetry over several decades; her “Million Man March” was composed for that event, and she recited the specially written “On the Pulse Of Morning” at Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. She was also a musician, creating movie scores and calypso albums in her own name as well as penning songs for performers such as Roberta Flack. She directed, produced and acted in films and plays. More recently, she even wrote cookbooks. Mentor to Oprah Winfrey and friend to the Clintons and Obamas, during the last third of her life her historic status was established.
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