In life, poet and essayist Maya Angelou inspired her readers to embrace optimism in the face of hardship. In death, she will be remembered as a modern Renaissance woman who used her influence to explore and expose the world’s injustices.
Ms. Angelou, who died Wednesday at age 86, grew from a young victim of sexual abuse, to a single mother who performed at strip clubs to earn a living, into one of America’s most beloved storytellers. The world is better because she shared her journey. “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style,” she said.
Ms. Angelou was best known for her award-winning writing, including her memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” She worked as an actress, director, playwright, composer, singer and dancer.
She also was a social crusader, dating to the civil rights movement. But she didn’t spend much time railing against the establishment. Instead, she showed how the forces of racism and sexism played out on an individual level.
She demanded personal accountability and taught generations of African-American women how to carry themselves with pride, strength, intelligence and confidence. She understood what it meant to grow up black and female, and generously bestowed her profound words on those who sought her guidance.
Ms. Angelou became a favorite of U.S. presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who commissioned her to write poems for inaugurations and other high-profile affairs.
She was a warrior for peace, equality and tolerance. In February 2011, President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Maya Angelou was a wise elder who preached hard work, perseverance and redemption. She helped Americans to believe in themselves and to want to be better people. She leaves a rich legacy of wisdom.