She held no official college degree but was known in all professional circles as Dr. Angelou. Of course, the poet, biographer and actress Maya Angelou had a closet-full of honorary doctorates from schools large and small, and certainly in the world of the arts she was a spectacularly qualified professor of life.
Her own life was colorful and full and invigorated with a multitude of friends. It was enriched, thanks to her own grit and courage, with acclaimed poetry, multiple autobiographies and a career that included the theater and, since the early 1980s, a professorship at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. It was in her home there that she died Wednesday. She was 86.
Angelous 1969 book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, made her famous, but it was only the beginning. An imposing presence, Angelou succeeded on stage and in movies, and at different times in her long life she was a lecturer on college campuses and a guest in many public forums. Her works were said to convey a powerful story of the black experience and of her own hard life with a multitude of traumas from a young age.
After Angelou recited her original poem On the Pulse of Morning at President Bill Clintons first inauguration in 1993, sales of her books increased dramatically, and she enjoyed yet another wave of fame. In 2011, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. She counted among her closest friends the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Oprah Winfrey, for whom she was a mentor.
Lives such as Maya Angelous are precious and rare and testaments to personal courage. That she had in abundance.