RIP #MayaAngelou, the American poet and author, died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Wednesday. She was 86.
Her son, Guy B Johnson, confirmed the news in a statement. He said: “Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension.
“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”
Johnson said Angelou “passed quietly in her home” sometime before 8am on Wednesday.
Bill Clinton, at whose inauguration Angelou read her On the Pulse of the Morning, said in a statement: “America has lost a national treasure, and Hillary and I a beloved friend.”
Angelou’s failing health was reported as recently as Tuesday, when she canceled an appearance honoring her with a Beacon of Life Award because of “health reasons”. The ceremony was part of the 2014 MLB Beacon Award Luncheon, in Houston, Texas, part of Major League Baseball’s Civil Rights Games.
Last month, forced to cancel an appearance at a library in Arkansas, she wrote: “An unexpected ailment put me into the hospital. I will be getting better and the time will come when I can receive another invitation from my state and you will recognize me for I shall be the tall Black lady smiling. I ask you to please keep me in your thoughts, in your conversation and in your prayers.”
Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson, in St Louis, Missouri, in 1928. She described in an NPR interview how her brother’s lisp turned Marguerite into Maya.
Share your story: What did Maya Angelou mean to you?
To celebrate the life of one of America’s most influential poets, we’re asking you to tell us how you’ll remember her. Were you lucky enough to meet Angelou? Have a favorite quote? Share your story with us and we’ll feature select contributions on the Guardian
She survived several personal trials: she was a child of the depression, grew up in the segregated south, survived a childhood rape, gave birth as a teenager, and was, at one time, a prostitute.
She wrote wrote seven autobiographies, including the 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and was a playwright, director, actor, singer, songwriter and novelist.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was an indictment of the racial discrimination she experienced during her childhood. “If growing up is painful for the southern black girl,” she wrote, “being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.”
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has had a wide appeal, particularly to younger female readers and continues to appear on school and university reading lists in the US and the UK.
In 1993, she read On the Pulse of the Morning at President Clinton’s first inauguration, a performance that made the poem a bestseller. The poem celebrates the diversity of ethnic groups in the US, and calls on the nation to leave behind cynicism and look forward to a new pride in itself, and a new dawn for the country.
Clinton on Wednesday said he would “always be grateful for her electrifying reading … and even more for all the years of friendship that followed.”
Angelou was a long-time Clinton supporter. One month before his inauguration, she told the New York Times: “Since the election, I have found it easier to wake up in the morning,” and “there seems to be a promise in the air.”
And her loyalty to Hillary Clinton has been steadfast, even as Barack Obama campaigned to be America’s first black president.
“I made up my mind 15 years ago that if she ever ran for office I’d be on her wagon. My only difficulty with Senator Obama is that I believe in going out with who I went in with,” she told the Guardian.
Actors, writers, directors, activists and politicians shared thankful and mournful notes in response to Angelou’s death.
JK Rowling called her “utterly amazing”; Lena Dunham thanked Angelou for “your power, your politics, your poetry. We need you more than ever.”
Angelou had lived in North Carolina since the early 1980s, when she became a professor at Wake Forest University, a private liberal arts college. A statement from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem called Angelou “a national treasure whose life and teachings inspired millions around the world”.
The mayor of Winston-Salem, Allen Joines, said the town would probably remember Angelou best for her commitment to health and theatre.
She supported the founder of the National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, and eventually became its first chairperson in 1989. In 2012, the Maya Angelou Women’s Health and Wellness Center opened in the city. A street in Winston-Salem is named after Angelou.
Despite her many accomplishments, the mayor said small moments seemed to touch the poet.
In April 2008, the town threw Angelou an 80th birthday party. Despite entertainers and speakers present at the party, the mayor said, “The thing that seemed to touch her the most was a group of little kids.”
5 WHORES WHO CHANGED THE WORLD
When: 1400s B.C.
How She Got Her Start?
Rahab probably came from a middle-class family in Jericho. She was an intelligent, independent-minded woman, and in those days there was only one profession for a girl like her to go into. A married woman was a slave to her husband, but a prostitute lived her own life and made her own decisions. As a scarlet woman, Rahab had freedom.
The cost of freedom, circa 1400 BC.
By all accounts, she was good at it, too. By the time she comes up in the Bible, she had her own house and made a comfortable income. Comfortable enough that she began to long for a career that didn’t involve, at best, being fisted by middle-aged men who bathed once a year.
What Made Her Great?
Back in 1422 B.C., the Israelites were living on a barren tract of land appropriately named, Shittim. Joshua, king of the Jews, didn’t really like living in a place that reminded him of his own bowel movements, so he set his sights on the city of Jericho.
Better than Shittim.
Joshua sent out two spies to scout out the defenses. The young Jews did their job and then sought “refuge” at Rahab’s place. The Bible doesn’t state why they chose to stay there, but it’s pretty obvious Joshua’s spies were “scouting out the defenses” for a “full frontal assault.”
Their sweaty reconnaissance was cut short, however, when the king of Jericho sent his men out to look for the two Jewish spies skulking around his city. Rahab hid the young men, and convinced the king’s soldiers that the spies were hiding elsewhere. Because of Rahab’s kindness, Joshua’s spies survived and were able to bring back crucial information that lead to the conquest of Jericho by the armies of Israel.
That’s right; believe what you want about the Bible, but it’s right there in the Old Testament that the course of world history was turned by a hooker with a heart of gold.
When: 470 B.C.-400 B.C.
How She Got Her Start?
Like a lot of whores, Aspasia was born into a bad situation. She was a foreigner in Athens, which meant she had close to nothing in the way of civil rights and would almost certainly never marry.
The only area of Athenian society that was more open for women than men was in Athens’ legendary brothels. Prostitution was neither illegal, or frowned upon in Athenian society. Both men and women could be whores, although men had to quit when they became adults. Yes, in Athens they’d only bust you if your clients weren’t pedophiles.
Aspasia took advantage of this and became a hetaera, or really high class hooker. Hetaerae were generally well-educated and, under law, they were independent from any men, and were even allowed to pay taxes and own property. In short order, the beautiful Aspasia was at the top of the hooker hierarchy and renowned through all of Athens.
What Made Her Great?
Aspasia knew she was hot, and she knew how to use that beauty to get what she wanted. Soon, she began to court Pericles, the First Man in Athens (that is, a famous statesman and orator–kind of a mix between Obama and Oprah).
She and her husband became the center of a great group of philosophers and thinkers from all across the city. She not only knew Socrates, but many credit her with being one of his teachers. Some scholars even suggest she had a hand in the origins of the Socratic method though, for some reason, they left that one out of our philosophy textbooks.
Where: London, England.
How She Got Her Start:
The same way most of us did: giving handjobs to aristocrats in the back of a theater. Nell Gwynn was the daughter of an alcoholic brothel owner in dire financial straits. She started working at an early age, selling snacks during plays and delivering messages to randy young noblemen. Most historians seem to agree that the girls often ended up delivering more than refreshments.
One lucky day, when Nell was a young adult, she met King Charles II during a play. The king was impressed with the young harlot’s wit and moxie, and invited her back to the castle. One thing lead to another, and pretty soon Nell Gwynn was a regular attendee of the king’s court (by “court,” we mean his penis).
Unfortunately for Nell, King Charles was a bit of a player. At the time the two met, the king had a wife, a mistress and a string of former and aspiring mistresses all vying for his attention. Nell was clever, though, and by a combination of wit, charm and poisoning her rivals with laxatives, she managed to become the king’s most beloved concubine.
What Made Her Great?
Nell Gwynn never denied her past, nor did she seem the least bit guilty over it. At one point, a fight broke out when one of her detractors screamed that she was a whore. Nell broke the fight up in short order by saying, “I am a whore. Find something else to fight about.”
This wasn’t the first time Nell had admitted her ho’ness in front of a massive crowd of strangers. Another time, a large crowd mistook her for a rival mistress, the Duchess of Portsmouth, and began to shout at her carriage, calling her a Catholic whore along with a laundry list of funny-sounding British insults that no one born in a sane country could understand.
You gobshite tallywacker!
Nell stuck her head out of the carriage and corrected the mistaken commoners, “Good people, you are mistaken. I am the Protestant whore.”
This mixture of wit and bigotry won the crowd over, and lead to her becoming the only one of King Charles’s many mistresses to become popular with the mob. Nell was a shrewd woman, and she used her favor with the king and the people of England to secure her son a dukedom, and convince Charles to approve the construction of a Royal Hospital for ex-servicemen in the city of London, one of the precursors to our modern VA Hospitals.
Thanks, terrifying ceramic version of Nell with an amazing rack!
So, yeah, keep that in mind the next time you’re congratulating yourself for never having touched a man’s wiener for money.