WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (CNN) — Renowned poet, novelist and actress Maya Angelou died Wednesday morning at age 86 at her North Carolina home.
CNN takes a look back at this phenomenal woman’s life.
“The hells we have lived through…
And live through still…
Have sharpened our senses…
And toughened our will.”
Celebrated poet and activist Maya Angelou may have been speaking about herself on that day in 1995.
Born Marguerite Annie Johnson in Saint Louis, Missouri, April 4, 1928, the “hells” she “lived through” began at the age of seven, when she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend.
After she spoke out against him, he was beaten to death by a mob.
Young Marguerite blamed herself.
“I was seven and a half… and my seven and a half year old logic deduced that my voice had killed him, so I stopped speaking for almost six years,” Angelou said.
It was during those years of silence that she discovered poetry and her love of art.
Her poetry was first physical.
Winning a dance and drama scholarship in San Francisco, then later touring Europe in 1954, in “Porgy and Bess.”
But her growing love for the written word took her to Egypt and Ghana, where she became a newspaper editor.
In Ghana, she met Malcolm X and returned to the U.S. in 1964 to join his fight in the civil rights movement.
After Malcolm X’s assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King asked her to join him.
He was killed on her birthday, 1968.
The following year, her first memoir was published, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” with more best-sellers would follow.
Her books detailed personal struggles like having a baby as an unwed teenager. That son later became novelist, Guy Johnson.
Blazing trails on the big and small screens, she directed documentaries.
Her screenplay for 1972’s “Georgia, Georgia” was nominated for a Pulitzer prize.
Maya Angelou was nominated for a Tony Award.
She won 3 Grammies and, in 2011, President Obama presented her with The Presidential Medal of Freedom.
She called herself “Maya,” which was her brother’s nickname for her.
“Angelou” came from her first husband’s name, Tosh Angelos.
She had created her own name, just as she’d created poetry… from pieces of herself.
“I am the hope and the dream of the slave.
And so, naturally, there I go rising.”