We are saddened by the loss of Maya Angelou, a special teacher and friend to Omega, who passed away in May 2014.
The late Maya Angelou was one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. Hailed as a global renaissance woman, she was a celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.
Born in 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, Angelou was raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. Growing up, she experienced the brutality of racial discrimination, but she also absorbed the unshakable faith and values of traditional African-American family, community, and culture. She would become one of the nation's treasures and the author of many best-selling books, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Even The Stars Look Lonesome.
In 1981, she was appointed to a lifetime position as the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. A passionate and powerful speaker, she challenged her audiences to invest their spirits and hearts in the elevation of the human condition. One of the highlights of her life came when she was chosen by President Bill Clinton to become only the second poet in the nation's history to have the honor of writing and reciting original work at the Presidential Inauguration, delivering her dedicatory poem, "On The Pulse of Morning" at President Clinton's inaugural ceremony in January 1993.
An international traveler, performer, and scholar in her early years, Angelou read and studied voraciously, mastering French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, and the West African language Fanti. While in Ghana, she met with Malcolm X and, in 1964, returned to the United States to help him build his new Organization of African American Unity. Shortly after her return to the United States, Malcolm X was assassinated, and the organization dissolved.
Angelou was then asked by Martin Luther King, Jr. to serve as northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. At around this time, with the guidance of her friend, the novelist James Baldwin, she began work on the book that would become I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Published in 1970, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published to international acclaim and enormous popular success. The list of her published verse, nonfiction, and fiction now includes more than 30 best-selling titles.
Angelou served on two presidential committees, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and received three Grammy Awards. She also received more than 50 honorary degrees.