Poet Maya Angelou in her West Side apartment.

She was the American author and poet who every budding feminist would read. Most famous for her powerful autobiography I Know Why A Caged Bird Sings, we’re sad to announce that the talented and inspiring civil rights activist Maya Angelou passed away yesterday, aged 86.

While the author, who died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA was said to have been in a frail state for some time, there has been no announcement about the cause of death.  Her son Guy Johnson said: “She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace.”

US President Barack Obama paid tribute to the late, great Angelou in a statement on Wednesday afternoon, saying: “Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time — a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman. Like so many others, Michelle and I will always cherish the time we were privileged to spend with Maya. With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer.”


Angelou’s resounding motto and advice to everyone, particularly in I Know Why A Caged Bird Sings, was to always “be our best selves”. Having lived through such a troubled childhood, Angelou was the perfect role model, making a successful life from almost nothing.

Brought up in poverty, Angelou moved to her grandmother’s when she was three, after her parents’ “calamitous marriage” came to a bitter end. The grandmother had prospered financially during the Great Depression and Angelou was comfortable. However, four years later, Angelou’s dad returned, dragging her back to live with her mum in St Louis. There, aged eight, she was abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend.

Angelou reported the attack but her rapist was only given one day in jail. Four days after his release he was murdered by her uncles. The shock and trauma saw Angelou become a mute for nearly five years. She said: “I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone …”

Angelou was sent back to her grandmother’s and there she went to school and met with a teacher called Bertha Flowers, who the author credits for bringing literature and great authors to her life.

Moving on to study dance and drama, Angelou briefly dropped out of school before returning at 17 to graduate. Three weeks later she gave birth to her son, Guy. As a single mother her life took another bad turn as she ran a brothel and worked as a stripper to make ends meet.

However, making the ’best of herself’ she turned her life around, working as a singer and dancer. Even touring the world. It was during her travels that she befriended the late Nelson Mandela. She also worked with Martin Luther King.

In 1969 Angelou’s I Know Why A Caged Bird Sings was published, thrusting her in to the limelight and life of fame. However, never greedy, Angelou used her fame to her advantage. As well as writing more memoirs and even a cookery book, she also released an album, Miss Calypso.

She also became a mentor to a range of figures including rapper Tupac Shakur and media mogul Oprah Winfrey, as well as to all women of every age. Author Hilton Als said Angelou’s work freed other female writers to “open themselves up without shame to the eyes of the world.”

Angelou is a symbol of hope – she proves that you can be in charge of your own destiny.

Here are some of our favourite quotes from the amazing Maya Angelou:

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“Nothing will work unless you do.”

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”

“All great achievements require time.”

“Bitterness is like a cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”

“A wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.”

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”

Image: Getty