Dr Angelou visiting the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in 2010. Photo: Getty Images
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US poet and author Maya Angelou has died, aged 86

Sad news as an American literary icon passes away.

Author, poet, dancer, actor, civil rights activist and self-taught professor Maya Angelous has passed away at the age of 86, her publicist has confirmed. She died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Internationally-renowned for her first book, the autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, which detailed her life up to the age of 17, Angelou was not only a key figure in African-American culture but one of the United States' most respected and loved writers. Her early life saw her take up jobs as diverse as cable-car operator, waiter, sex worker, nightclub singer and world-touring opera actor in a 1954 production of Porgy and Bess. She moved to New York City in 1959 and joined the Harlem Writers Guild, beginning her career as an author.

In the early 1960s she edited a newspaper in Ghana, and later in the decade counted both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr among her close friends during the civil rights struggle. Her writing career blossomed in the 1970s, winning dozens of awards, and earning honorary degrees from more than 30 universities around the world. She spoke six languages, was was one of the first black female film directors in American cinema, and she directed work on Broadway - indeed, she has been nominated for all of the Pulitzer, Tony and Grammy awards for her work, which has been cited as some of the most groundbreaking of the 20th century by both feminist and African-American artists.

From our archive: Nicci Gerrard on Maya Angelou's second volume of autobiography, Gather Together in My Name, first published in the New Statesman 17 May 1985.

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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Poem: "When the Americans came"

“Do you have vampires around here?”

When the Americans came,

they didn’t take to our gardens:

the apple orchard smelling of wild garlic,

foxgloves growing among the runner beans.


“Do you have vampires around here?”

a visitor from Carolina asked me.

It was a shambles, Wilfred knew that,

nodding wisely as though apologising


for the ill manners of King George,

the clematis purple in the thatched roofing.

But come the softe sonne,

there are oxlips in Fry’s woods,


forget-me-nots in the shallow stream,

lettuce and spring onions for a salad.

It’s certain that fine women eat

A crazy salad with their meat*


I tried to tell them. But they weren’t women,

and didn’t care to listen to a boy.

They preferred the red rosehips

we used for making wine.


Danced outside the village church

round the maypole Jack Parnham made.

Now they’re gone,

the wild garlic has returned.


* W B Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter”


William Bedford is a novelist, children’s author and poet. His eighth collection of verse, The Bread Horse, is published by Red Squirrel Press.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood