NBC NEWS - Often called a true Renaissance woman, Maya Angelou was not only an acclaimed poet and novelist but a civil rights activist, educator and historian.
Born Marguerite Annie Johnson in 1928 in St. Louis, but raised in Arkansas.
Her childhood was reflected in her famous autobiography and movie "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings".
It detailed a life marred with the vicious racial discrimination of the South at that time as well as the unspeakable violence she endured in her own home...raped at age 8...after which she would not speak for five years.
Maya Angelou's artistic career actually began in dance... winning a scholarship...that led to performing on Broadway and a variety of TV shows.
But a more serious calling...sent her overseas..running newspapers in Egypt...teaching in Ghana.. and learning to speak five languages.
All the while, she kept her membership in the Harlem Writers Guild...publishing more than 30 best-selling titles....including award-winning screenplays. she also acted in the the TV series "Roots."
It was her literary prowess, though, that challenged mainly young people to push beyond expectations.
Among her accomplishments: Pulitzer Prize nominations, 3 Grammys... more than 30 honorary degrees...and the Presidential Medal of Freedom....plus a request to compose a poem for President Clinton's inauguration in 1993.
Maya Angelou was what she wrote.."A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."
Maya Angelou died at her home in North Carolina. She was 86.
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