Centre remembers Maya Angelou

Posted by Centre News in News 28 May 2014

mayaMaya Angelou, one of the most famous poets and memoirists of the 20th-century United States, died at home this morning in Winston-Salem, N.C. She was 86 years old.

The poet visited Centre College in 1991 (pictured above), when she gave the Martin Luther King, Jr. address in Newlin Hall of the Norton Center for the Arts on January 16. This was also the day that the United States began bombing targets in Kuwait and Iraq, officially marking the start of the first Gulf War.

Milton Reigelman, J. Rice Cowan Professor of English and director of international programs at Centre, was instrumental in bringing Angelou to campus.

“This was one of the most significant events ever at the Norton Center,” says Reigelman. “She gave an incredibly powerful speech to a packed audience, using the moment to help our campus deal with the fact that we were going to war. It was one of the most moving events I’ve ever been fortunate enough to attend.”

Angelou is best known for “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” the first book in a seven-volume memoir that chronicles her life and heritage as a black woman raised in the Jim Crow South. Published in 1969, “Caged Bird” tells the story of her childhood from age three to 16, exploring issues of identity, family, racism, rape and self-determination. It was one of the first autobiographies written about the black female experience to receive widespread readership and acclaim.

In 2011, President Barack Obama presented Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is the highest civilian award in the United States and only one of many honors received by the late poet.