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Phenomenal Woman: Dr. Maya Angelou

From The Atlanta Voice and news wire services | 5/30/2014, 11:54 a.m.
Atlanta joined the multitude of people from around the world paying tribute to the life and works of poet, author ...
Dr. Maya Angelou (1928-2014).

Atlanta joined the multitude of people from around the world paying tribute to the life and works of poet, author and activist Maya Angelou, who passed Wednesday at the age of 86 at home her in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Angelou had a special connection to Atlanta, where she had a number of close friends, including former UN ambassador Andrew Young and his brother Dr. Walter Young and his wife Sonja Young, who brought Angelou here for her last Atlanta visit in March for a women’s conference. The Teen Center at the Southwest Atlanta YMCA is also named after Angelou.

“She was one of the most positive people on this planet--through her life, her wisdom, her poetry and prose, she lifted the aspirations and nurtured the spirits of everyone she touched,” Ambassador Young said in a statement. “Maya inspired young girls to grow into ‘Phenomenal Women.’   She walked with kings, presidents and Nobel Prize winners and never lost the common touch.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the nation had lost a “national treasure.”

“Dr. Maya Angelou was an exemplar whose life and teachings inspired millions around the world, including myself to live with integrity, pride, courage and faith,” Mayor Reed said. “Her work as a poet, activist, teacher and poet will continue to inspire us for generations to come.”

Angelou, a modern Renaissance woman survived the harshest of childhoods to become a force on stage, screen, the printed page and the inaugural dais.

Tall and regal, with a deep, majestic voice, Angelou defied all probability and category, becoming one of the first black women to enjoy mainstream success as an author and thriving in virtually every artistic medium. The young single mother who performed at strip clubs to earn a living later wrote and recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history. The childhood victim of rape wrote a million-selling memoir, befriended Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and performed on stages around the world.

An actress, singer and dancer in the 1950s and 1960s, she broke through as an author in 1970 with "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’’ which became standard (and occasionally censored) reading, and was the first of a multipart autobiography that continued through the decades.

In 1993, she was a sensation reading her cautiously hopeful "On the Pulse of the Morning’’ at former President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. Her confident performance openly delighted Clinton and made the poem a best-seller, if not a critical favorite. For former President George W. Bush, she read another poem, "Amazing Peace,’’ at the 2005 Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the White House.

Clinton said that he and his wife Hillary have lost a dear friend. “The poems and stories she wrote and read to us in her commanding voice were gifts of wisdom and wit, courage and grace,” he said. “I will always be grateful for her electrifying reading of ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ at my first inaugural, and even more for all the years of friendship that followed.”