Celebrated poet, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, who passed away today at the age of 86, was remembered by President Obama in a statement as “one of the brightest lights of our time — a brilliant writer, a fierce friend and a truly phenomenal woman.”
A major figure in the civil rights movement who worked directly with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Angelou published more than 30 titles and received more than 50 honorary degrees. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
Her breakthrough book was her best-selling 1970 memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which made literary history as the first non-fiction best-seller by an African American woman.
African American literature expert André Carrington, PhD, an assistant professor of English in Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences, reflected on her passing, saying:
“A quote from Angelou’s best known autobiography, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ reminds us of why her success was so unlikely and so essential: ‘If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.’
“Maya Angelou lived with an awareness of how precarious the lives of African American women are, and the fact that her own experience was the inspiration for many of her writings shows us that black women’s lives are full of resources to be respected, learned from and valued, rather than exploited.
“She set an example that few writers can follow by bridging the gaps between fulfilling creativity, radical political solidarity and mainstream recognition.
“With her passing she joins some of the luminaries of African American letters whom we’ve lost in recent years, including Amiri Baraka and Jayne Cortez, whose work during and after the Black Arts Movement continues to shape American life today.”
Carrington’s research focuses on the cultural politics of race, gender and genre in 20th century American literature and the arts.
For more commentary from Carrington, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/prof_carrington.
Members of the news media who are interested in speaking with Carrington should contact Alex McKechnie at 215-895-2705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.