News souces have reported the death of Dr. Maya Angelou, one of America's most inspirational writers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. According to Charlotte, N.C.'s Time Warner affiliate, her death comes days after canceling her appearance at the Major League Baseball Beacon Awards luncheon, where she would have received an award of recognition.
Dr. Angelou had been frail and suffering heart problems, and was found unresponsive this morning inside her Winston-Salem home. Cause of death and memorial arrangements have not yet been reported as of Wednesday writing.
I myself, like many, had my youthful period of discovery with the author's languid and expressive prose. I taught her most famous of memoirs, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), as an intern English teacher to 11th graders at Clearwater High School. I had hoped to impress upon my students Angelou's capacity to entertain, inspire and ease the troubled mind of a not yet fully formed individualist. Charismatic and compassionate, Dr. Angelou lived her life defying expectations — she was the first black street car conductor in San Francisco and added actress, director, playwright, composer, singer and dancer to her list of achievements.
One of Dr. Angelou's most famous moments included writing and reciting a poem at President Clinton's 1993 inaugural. The recording of On the Pulse of Morning later won a Grammy.
While she may not be revered by literary purists, Dr. Angelou's inspirational words will resonate with the passage of time. According to USA Today, her formal education ended in high school, but she was awarded more than 30 honorary degrees from colleges, and she insisted on being addressed as "Dr. Angelou." She made her most staunch and eloquent declaration of individualism in the poem "And Still I Rise," which she reads from in the below video. Late South African President Nelson Mandela read the poem at his inauguration.
I am regreftul that I never met her. Around 15 years ago, I attended a book signing in New York and got a glimpse of her in the Barnes and Noble by Union Station, but the line was too long and the signing closed before I had a chance to approach the autograph table.