86-year-old poet and activist Maya Angelou died Tuesday at her home in Winston Salem, N.C. Born Marguerite Johnson, she grew up in St. Louis, Mo. and Stamps, Ark. and was first called Maya by her brother. Leaving a troubled childhood and a segregated South, she began a career as both dancer and singer, touring Europe in the 1950s in a production of Porgy and Bess. She also studied dance with Martha Graham and performed with Alvin Ailey. Patrick Henry Bass, an editor at Essence Magazine, talked about her unique voice: “You would hear that voice, and that voice would capture a humanity, and that voice would calm you in so many ways through some of the most significant challenges.” The first of her series of memoirs I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings revealed some of the “scars of her past”. Film director John Singleton who used Ms. Angelou’s poems in his film Poetic Justice said he remembers the effect her poem Still I Rise had on him: “It makes me feel better about myself, or at least made me feel better about myself when I was young.” The poem begins with these lines:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.