Writer And Activist Maya Angelou Dies at 86

Poet, performer and activist Maya Angelou has died after a long illness at her home in North Carolina. Angelou grew up in a segregated society that she worked to change during the civil rights era.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's take a moment now to remember Maya Angelou. The poet, social activist and literary icon died yesterday at her home in North Carolina. When she was a child in the 1930s, Angelou spent a period of several years without speaking. But once she found her voice, she spoke loudly and not just for herself.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Her work gave voice to women, to African-Americans, to anyone who had ever been told to stay quiet. Last year, Angelou spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin and talked about that silent time in her childhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MAYA ANGELOU: The reason I didn't speak - I had been molested, and I told the name of the molester to my brother, who told it to the family. The man was put in jail for one day and night and released. And about three days later, the police came over to my mother's mother's house and told her that the man had been found dead. And it seemed he had been kicked to death. They made that pronouncement in my earshot. And I thought my voice killed the man - and so it's better not to speak. So for six years, I didn't speak.

GREENE: Angelou documented those painful years in the first of seven autobiographies, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." Her work brought her acclaim and awards from around the world. She read at President Bill Clinton's first inauguration and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from another president, Barack Obama.

INSKEEP: Here's Maya Angelou in 1994 in Raleigh, North Carolina- reading one of her most defining works, the poem "Phenomenal Woman."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANGELOU: (Reading) Many people wonder where my secret lies. I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model size. When I try to show them, they think I'm telling lies. I say it's in the reach of my arms, the span of my hips, the stride of my step, the curl of my lips. I'm a woman -phenomenally.

INSKEEP: That's the poet, Maya Angelou, who died yesterday at the age of 86.

GREENE: And her works are among the tens of millions of books and volumes that are held in the Library of Congress. It's believed to be though largest library collection in the world. But this next story is about some books that even the Library of Congress could not track down.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: