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Writer And Activist Maya Angelou Dies at 86


Let's take a moment now to remember Maya Angelou. The poet, social activist and literary icon died yesterday at her home in North Carolina. When she was a child in the 1930s, Angelou spent a period of several years without speaking. But once she found her voice, she spoke loudly and not just for herself.


Her work gave voice to women, to African-Americans, to anyone who had ever been told to stay quiet. Last year, Angelou spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin and talked about that silent time in her childhood.


MAYA ANGELOU: The reason I didn't speak - I had been molested, and I told the name of the molester to my brother, who told it to the family. The man was put in jail for one day and night and released. And about three days later, the police came over to my mother's mother's house and told her that the man had been found dead. And it seemed he had been kicked to death. They made that pronouncement in my earshot. And I thought my voice killed the man - and so it's better not to speak. So for six years, I didn't speak.

GREENE: Angelou documented those painful years in the first of seven autobiographies, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." Her work brought her acclaim and awards from around the world. She read at President Bill Clinton's first inauguration and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from another president, Barack Obama.

INSKEEP: Here's Maya Angelou in 1994 in Raleigh, North Carolina- reading one of her most defining works, the poem "Phenomenal Woman."


ANGELOU: (Reading) Many people wonder where my secret lies. I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model size. When I try to show them, they think I'm telling lies. I say it's in the reach of my arms, the span of my hips, the stride of my step, the curl of my lips. I'm a woman -phenomenally.

INSKEEP: That's the poet, Maya Angelou, who died yesterday at the age of 86.

GREENE: And her works are among the tens of millions of books and volumes that are held in the Library of Congress. It's believed to be though largest library collection in the world. But this next story is about some books that even the Library of Congress could not track down. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.