Ten things to remember about poet and writer Maya Angelou, who died Wednesday at age 86:
1. HOW SHE GOT HER NAME
“Maya” was a childhood nickname bestowed upon her by her brother. “Angelou” was inspired by the last name of her Greek-American first husband, Tosh Angelos.
2. SHE WAS IN LOVE WITH LANGUAGE, BUT SPENT YEARS IN SILENCE
After being raped by her mother’s boyfriend at age 7, she stopped talking, because she thought her words had led to his death (the man was found beaten to death shortly after being sentenced to prison).
3. HOW SHE LEARNED TO USE HER VOICE AGAIN
A family friend, Mrs. Flowers, took Angelou under her wing and gave her poems to memorize and recite. She was writing her own poems by age 9.
4. SHE WORKED WITH MALCOLM X, MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
Angelou helped organize Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity, though it dissolved soon after his death. She also served as the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headed by King.
5. WHY OPRAH REMEMBERS HER AS A MENTOR
“She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence, and a fierce grace … She will always be the rainbow in my clouds.”
6. A POET OF THE PEOPLE
Angelou’s poems “And Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman” regularly made the rounds of social media, and she collaborated on a collection of greeting cards and gift items with Hallmark. “If I’m the people’s poet then I ought to be in people’s hands – and I hope in their heart,” Angelou said in a 2002 AP interview.
7. POET LAUREATE OF PRESIDENTS
Angelou was only the second poet to perform at a presidential inauguration when she read at Bill Clinton’s ceremony in 1993. She also read a poem at the White House’s Christmas tree lighting in 2005 under George W. Bush and was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
8. “I’M NOT A WRITER WHO TEACHES. I’M A TEACHER WHO WRITES.”
Angelou described herself this way in a 2008 USA Today interview. At Wake Forest University, she taught courses like “Race in the Southern Experience” and “Shakespeare and the Human Condition.”
9. SHE CREATED FOOD FOR THE BELLY AS WELL AS THE SOUL
Angelou’s oeuvre includes two cookbooks, both of them incorporating anecdotes from her life. She said food was central “in my desire to understand who I am and where I am.”
10. HER RULE TO LIVE BY
Angelou was known to quote the Roman poet Terence: “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.”