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Remembering Maya Angelou

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 29th May 2014

Maya angelouIt's with sadness that we heard about the death of poet, author and activist Maya Angelou,  who passed away at her home in North Carolina yesterday.

Having lived an incredible and accomplished life, Angelou is most famous for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969, which charts her early years from living with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, to becoming a mother at the age of 16. Dealing with some challenging subjects, including racism and sexual assault, the book is a testament to how strength of character and specifically a love of literature can help overcome trauma. Having been inspired to embrace the spoken word by one of her childhood teachers, she was influenced by a wide range of literature including Shakespeare, Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose poem Sympathy inspired the title of her book:

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,-
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings -
I know why the caged bird sings!

Read Paul Laurence Dunbar's  poem in full here.

She went on to write her own poem called Caged Bird, as well as many more that have enthused and inspired readers. Perhaps her most famous work is Phenomenal Woman, which has been read and enjoyed in our shared reading groups, and is surely a point of encouragement for many females across the world.

It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman

And needless to say, she was a great advocate of reading and reading aloud. Some of her most inspiring quotes can be found here, but here are a couple of our favourites:

"Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning."

"Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him."

There's no doubt that her inspiring legacy will live on through her work, and encourage a whole new generation of readers.

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