12 Things You Should Know About Maya Angelou

AARP Magazine's 2011 Inspire Awards

This morning the world learned of the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou, a writer, activist and all-around Renaissance woman. After growing up in the racially segregated South and suffering abuse in her childhood, Angelou proved how far a person could rise in life. Here are 12 inspiring facts about her life that led her to change the world.

+ Dr. Angelou had many careers. In the 1950s she toured Europe with an opera production, made her album “Calypso Lady” and became part of the Harlem Writers Guild.

+ Watch Maya Angelous Perform As “Miss Calypso”

+ During part of the 60s, she lived in Africa, teaching at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama. She was also an editor for The Arab Observer and The African Review.

+ In the mid-60s she returned to America and worked with Dr. Martin Luther King as the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He personally picked her for the job.

+ In 1970, she published her memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” It describes her being sexual assaulted while a child, the racism she grew up around, and how reading saved her. The critically acclaimed bestseller launched her as a major writer.

+ After writing “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Dr. Angelou penned dozens of bestsellers, including books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

+ Dr. Angelou broke the barrier for African-American women writing screenplays and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She wrote the script for the 1972 movie “Georgia, Georgia,” — the first movie ever written by an African-American woman.

Maya Angelou delivers poem on Bill Clinton's Inauguration Day January 20, 1993 in Washington, DC

Maya Angelou Speaking at President Bill Clinton’s Inauguration

+ Former President Bill Clinton was so impressed by Dr. Angelou that he asked her to write and read an original poem at his presidential inauguration. Her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” included the lines: “History, despite its wrenching pain/ Cannot be unlived, but if faced/ With courage, need not be lived again.”

+ Her love of the movies continued, and in the mid ’90s she directed the movie “Down in the Delta.”

+ She’s been given more than 50 honorary degrees from universities, including Tufts University, Howard University and the University of Southern California.

+ As a continuation of her early interest in politics and activism, Dr. Angelou worked on two presidential committees, for President Ford and President Carter.

+  President Barack Obama gave her the Medal of Freedom, which is the highest award a civilian in this country can earn.

+  As someone who rose out of abuse, prejudice and poverty to become a world-renowned voice, Dr. Angelou inspired millions to work hard and go after their passions. “I created myself. I have taught myself so much,” she said.

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