Maya Angelou was a true Renaissance woman. ESSENCE Editors celebrate the iconic storyteller's legacy in the new book Maya Angelou Her Phenomenal Life & Poetic Journey (Essence Books/Time Inc. Home Entertainment, $11.99), a reminder of the grace and power of the extraordinary woman who departed on May 28, 2014, and left behind several lifetimes of examples of living life with faith, purpose and passion.
A lauded poet, author, actress, dancer, singer, orator, director and screenwriter, her remarkable talent was matched by her unyielding commitment to civil and human rights. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928, she grew up in segregated, Depression-era Stamps, Arkansas. In 1970, she chronicled her childhood in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her National Book Award–nominated memoir. The title proved a watershed moment in American literature, and was an instant classic with countless young Black women who identified with the heroine of the book and its creator.
Over the next four decades, Angelou would produce a staggering body of work including five additional titles in her autobiography series and 13 collections of poetry (with timeless poems such as “Phenomenal Woman” and “And Still I Rise”). She wrote and directed for the big screen (Georgia, Georgia and Down in the Delta). She won three Grammy Awards for spoken word poetry including for “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she delivered before the nation and the world at President Clinton’s 1993 inauguration. And she inspired millions of ESSENCE readers with her contributions to the magazine, onstage at the ESSENCE Festival in 1997 and by receiving the 1992 ESSENCE Woman of the Year Award.
ESSENCE Editor-in-Chief Vanessa K. Bush’s introduction discusses Angelou’s legacy. The book includes a recent interview with Angelou and the writer’s groundbreaking essay in honor of ESSENCE’s 25th anniversary. The colorful tome, which includes rare and exclusive images, also documents Angelou’s impact on two generations of African-American women writers, scholars and poets with reflections from Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate Rita Dove, New York Times best-selling authors Pearl Cleage and Edwidge Danticat, National Book Award–winning poet Nikky Finney, acclaimed poet asha bandele, American Book Award winner Sonia Sanchez and commentator Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor at Wake Forest University, where Dr. Angelou was a devoted faculty member.
Angelou was a force and guiding light for everyone, and she was unapologetic about her love for and support of Black women. The regal Angelou commanded respect with her presence, voice and talent. She encouraged ESSENCE readers that they could not only endure whatever challenges life presented, but they would always prevail. Now, in this tribute to one of the most influential women who ever lived, ESSENCE editors chart Angelou’s authority as an artist and activist, and captures meaningful relationships in her life over the years.