Legendary author, poet Maya Angelou dies at 86

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In true Maya Angelou form, the poet’s last words to the public were as profound as any others the great wordsmith had previously uttered.

“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God,” Angelou wrote to her 397,000 followers on Twitter on Friday, May 23, 2014.

Angelou died Wednesday, May 28, 2014, at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86.

“Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8 a.m. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension,” Angelou family members said in a statement. “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.”

Like many of her fans and those who emulated Angelou, Ardyss Rutledge, a Baltimore resident and aspiring poet, says she is devastated.

“It’s one of the worse days imaginable,” said Rutledge, who has written about four dozen poems after being inspired by Angelou’s 1969 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. “When I read that, it was all that I needed to know that anyone can face obstacles head on and come out victorious.”

Perry Singleton, who lives in Essex and is an English major at the University of Maryland, says Angelou’s works remain unmatched.

“There will never be another Maya Angelou. What she did with a pen, a typewriter, has never and will never be repeated,” Singleton said. “I idolize her, not just for her work, but for her courage and her willingness to spread a positive message.”

Born April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Angelou’s biography notes that at the age of three, her parents divorced and she and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Arkansas.

Her mother’s boyfriend sexually assaulted Angelou when she was just eight and, when family members found out about the attack, it wasn’t long before her attacker was murdered, incidents that sent the young girl into even more shock and rendering her unable to speak for a half dozen years. That’s when Angelou began to write and she took up a primary interest in poetry.

A single mother, Angelou supported her son by waiting tables at diners and restaurants, but she also had a passion for writing, music and dancing. She traveled to Europe in the 1950s with the touring production of “Porgy and Bess,” and she also released an album in 1957 titled, “Calypso Lady.”

Although Angelou never attended college, the poet extraordinaire had 30 honorary degrees bestowed upon her and she also taught at Wake Forest University.

In addition to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou also wrote several other autobiographies, including, Gather Together in My Name in 1974, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas in 1976, The Heart of a Woman in 1981, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes in 1986, A Song Flung Up to Heaven in 2002, and Mom & Me in 2013.

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey, the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and President Barack Obama counted among Angelou’s closest friends.

“You are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be,” author J.K. Rowling posted on Twitter, borrowing a quote from Angelou. “And, Maya Angelou, [you were] utterly amazing,” Rowling said.

Best-selling author Jodi Picoult also joined the parade of celebrities, fans and others in saluting Angelou. “Thank you for teaching the rest of us how to use words with bravery and grace to move the world to tears and action,” Picoult said.

Closer to home, in Baltimore, officials at the Maryland State Arts Council, also offered their condolences.

“I am deeply saddened by our loss of Maya Angelou. We think our literary

giants should last forever,” said Carla DuPree, a member of the Maryland State Arts Council and former executive director of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society.

“She was a woman of many talents. Out of a torn silence she dared to reinvent herself, and taught us what that looks like. Her words of wisdom are legendary and could be a handbook on how to live a celebrated life. Some of her quotes have carried me through difficult times, but Maya would say be changed by troubled times, but don’t be reduced by them. One of my favorite quotes of hers is ‘When people show you who they are, believe them.’ Maya taught us, now it’s up to us to remember and to listen.”

Family members said funeral arrangements for Angelou were pending.

“That’s where I’d like to be, at her farewell service,” Singleton said. “That’s where everyone should be because she meant so much to so many, including those she never met or never knew existed.”