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May 28, 2014

Poet, author and activist Maya Angelou dies at age 86

“But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no more hiding place down here.”

– Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning”

Celebrated author, poet, artist and activist Maya Angelou passed away May 28 at the age of 86. She is known across the globe for her elegant language and passion toward civil rights.

Angelou published several books of poetry, autobiographies and novels that are still widely read today. At President Bill Clinton’s first presidential inauguration in 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost spoke at President Kennedy’s address in 1961.


Personal reflections on the poetry of Maya Angelou

In this lesson plan, students will watch and read Maya Angelou’s poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” then analyze and reflect on her words.

Though Angelou never attended college, she was granted 30 honorary degrees and worked as a professor of American studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Angelou’s most famous work is “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” an autobiographical work of literature that explores issues such as civil rights, racism, sexism, travel and identity.

“It is amazing for me to have been taken to a library when I was eight [years old]. I had been abused and I returned to a little village in Arkansas, and a black lady took me to — she knew I wasn’t speaking. I refused to speak. For six years, I was a volunteer mute.”

Angelou is also known for her bold writing style, which surprised many readers when her work was first published in the 1960s. Since then, she has received numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for her book of poetry “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie,” a Tony Award, three Grammys and the Presidential Medial of Freedom, the U.S.’s highest civilian honor.

When President Obama won the 2008 presidential election, Angelou, who campaigned for him, said, “We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism”.

Angelou is remembered for her courage, determination and artistic talent, and her writing, which continues to connect to audiences to this day.

“Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past rooted in pain
I rise
A black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak miraculously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
And so, naturally… there I go rising…”

– Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise”

Warm up questions
  1. What are some ways that you honor those in your life who have passed away? How do you keep their memory alive?
  2. What were Jim Crow laws? Provide examples of these laws and explain what they sought to achieve. How did these laws impact the lives of African Americans like Maya Angelou living in the South?
Discussion questions
  1. Maya Angelou overcame challenges in her life that could have destroyed others. In what ways did she fight back? How did telling her story help others?
  2. Explain how a book or a poem can be a source of power to both the author and those reading the text.
Writing prompt

Choose to respond to either the quote or poetry excerpt from Maya Angelou. First, explain why you chose the text you did, then explain what you think the poem excerpt or quote means. Finally, explain how its message resonates in your own life.


“Friendship. It keeps you alive, it keeps you awake, it keeps you trying to be the best. And in the middle of the night when you’re lonely and feel most… most at odds with yourself and with life and even with God, you can call a friend.”

– Maya Angelou


Poetry brings happiness to troubled teens

A unique program in Seattle teaches teens who are leading difficult lives to write poetry as a way to triumph over their experiences.

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